Two separate articles from the Globe and Mail this month deal with the same issue: delaying motherhood.
The first, Trend towards delayed parenthood a wakeup call discusses the recent report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, In Due Time: Why Maternal Age Matters. This report focused on all live births in Canada from 2006 to 2009 and found that women aged 35 or older had an increased risk of pregnancy and labour complications such as gestational diabetes, placenta previa and placental abruption. These women were more likely to experience medical or surgical assistance (such as caesarean sections) during labour to ensure a safe delivery; and their babies were at greater risk of complications, including premature birth, low birth weight, chromosomal defects and birth defects. For women over 40 - first-time mothers in particular - the risks were even higher.
The report identifies what we have known for some time: women delay motherhood because they are continuing their education, are busy establishing a career, or are marrying later. In Canada, about one in five live births are to a woman 35 years of age or older and one out of every three first time mothers are 35 years or older.
The second article, Vitamin rejuvenates old eggs, study shows takes a different approach. Instead of dwelling on the risks of delaying motherhood, it deals with the potential to make human eggs younger with the use of a natural antioxidant vitamin, “a prospect that could turn back time on a woman’s biological clock and extend her natural ability to have a healthy child.” While the study only showed the vitamin improved the health of mice eggs, not human eggs, researchers at the University of Toronto have received approval to test the treatment for two months in 50 women over age 35. Word has already spread though the Internet and women who are not involved in the trial have begun to take the vitamin on their own accord.
I understand the desire or need to extend the reproductive years, it’s not uncommon in my clinic to see women in their 40s and even 50s. But as I tell my patients, even with all the improvements in reproductive technologies, as you get older it’s harder to get pregnant (decreased fertility), it’s harder to stay pregnant (increased miscarriages) and pregnancy is associated with more complications.
I wish there was a way to easily determine when we are physically, emotionally and financially prepared for pregnancy. There may not actually be a best time when everything is in place and it differs for everyone. But what we cannot deny - and what women and their partners need to recognize - is that delaying motherhood until you are 35 or older (despite the fact that it is possible) can have significant impacts on the health of both mother and baby.