Advanced maternal age (AMA) is a term used to describe women over the age of 35, according to the National Institute of Health. A new study by the CDC finds that pregnancy in women of AMA is on the rise and advocates believe this is a trend to celebrate.
A Trend Toward Advanced Maternal Age
“Thanks to a shift in societal norms, increased access to reproductive healthcare and advancements in assisted reproductive technologies, more women than ever are free to delay motherhood to when it works best for them. That’s huge,” writes“ Jessica D’Argenio Waller, MS, CNS, LDN of Motherly.
She goes points to a 2023 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that finds for the first time since 2015, more women over age 45 are becoming pregnant. She also highlights a larger trend of AMA pregnancies,
“For four decades, the birth rate among women aged 40 to 44 has been steadily increasing, except for a slight downturn during the pandemic. Then, in 2021, the birth rate in this age group increased 4%. Meanwhile, the birth rate in women age 20 to 24 has declined 43% since 2007.”
Expanded Considerations for Motherhood
While most medical professionals agree that the optimal biological age to conceive is around age 20-32, others point out that other factors are important considerations. Most new research suggests that a person’s brain does not fully develop until the age of 25 years. Some people may choose to wait until they are cognitively, emotionally, and financially prepared to have a baby, according to Medical News Today.
Because of these factors and the advancement and availability of fertility treatments and options such as IVF and egg freezing or donation, women are able to delay motherhood to a time that is personally and professionally right for them.
“Having the freedom to pursue personal and professional aspirations before embracing motherhood is empowering,” states Jill Koziol, CEO and co-founder of Motherly. “In an era where women are more educated than ever, personal growth, career, and education shouldn’t overshadow the choice of motherhood. Women should have the option to delay, not deny, this pivotal experience.”
More Flexibility Leads to More Mothers
It seems that the more flexibility women have in their choices to conceive, the more likely they are to enter motherhood. A Pew Research Survey found that “Not only are women more likely to be mothers than in the past, but they are having more children. Overall, women have 2.07 children during their lives on average – up from 1.86 in 2006, the lowest number on record. And among those who are mothers, family size has also ticked up.”
NBC news reported that the new US median age for giving birth is 30 due to a birth rate decline for women in their 20’s and increase for women in their 20’s and 30’s. This suggests that women are putting off motherhood in order to advance their education, careers, and finances.
“Having children later mostly puts women in a better position,” says Philip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociologist. “They have more resources, more education. The things we demand of people to be good parents are easier to supply when you are older.”
Risks and Important Considerations
While pregnancy later in life has its advantages, there are some disadvantages and increased risks. Pregnancy after age 45 years is considered as a high risk. There is a greater incidence of spontaneous abortion, gestational trophoblastic disease and chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus. Possible complications of pregnancy at age 35 or older include increased risk of spontaneous miscarriage, preterm labor, gestational diabetes mellitus, pre-eclampsia, stillbirth, chromosomal abnormalities, and cesarean delivery.
Also access to fertility treatments is greatly varied and significant gaps exist in the US. According to KFF, an independent source for health policy research, “Despite a need for fertility services, fertility care in the U.S. is inaccessible to many due to the cost. More often than not, fertility services are not covered by public or private insurers.” They also found disparages in treatment access for people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Adding to the risks are the increase in the US maternal mortality rate. The rising trend of abortion restrictions across the country have been found to contribute to these risks. The Commonwealth Fund, an independent research organization focused on health policy, found that strict restrictions on abortion are associated with poorer access to health care for pregnant people and infants, which in turn raises the risk of negative outcomes such as mental health challenges and death.
While it’s important to acknowledge the complexities and risks of motherhood later in life, advocates agree that expanded options for women is a positive trend.
More Support is Needed for All Moms
“Pregnant women and new moms need a lot of support, no matter how and when they get to parenthood,” says Lauren Makler, CEO and cofounder of Cofertility.
Motherly conquers, “Regardless of the age you are when you have your first child—or your fourth—systemic changes are still desperately needed to better support all mothers. Paid leave, flexible workplace policies, hybrid work schedules, universal pre-K and childcare support all need to be part of the picture when it comes to supporting mothers. But waiting until later in life when you’ve met certain personal goals or reached a certain position in your career may mean that you’re better prepared to welcome a baby in your life. For some, that’s the exact right time.”