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What Are Babies Born to Older Mothers More at Risk For?

As birth rates in younger women have declined, birth rates in women over 40 have continued to rise. Many women today wait until later in life to have children so they can become established in their careers first. This has obvious benefits, such as financial stability. Unfortunately, it also comes with an increased level of risk. 
If you are 40 or over and you’re expecting, chances are you are concerned about the risks your age may pose to your baby. The important thing to remember is that even though the following risks may be greater for the children of older mothers, the overall risk is still very low. 

Birth Injuries

The babies of older mothers can be more susceptible to injuries during birth. This is because older mothers have less effective contractions and longer labors, along with less elastic ligaments and pelvic muscles. This can cause babies to get stuck in the birth canal. 

Mothers 40 and over also have an increased risk of fetal distress. This can further raise the likelihood that a birth injury will occur. 

The most common over 40 birth injury types include:

Cerebral palsy
Erb’s palsy
Fetal asphyxia
Fractured collarbone
Oxygen deprivation
Facial paralysis
Spinal cord injury

Some birth injuries will resolve on their own or with minimal treatment, while others will require a lifetime of care and expenses. 

Chromosomal Abnormalities

The most common chromosomal abnormality is Down syndrome, the risk of which rises from 1 in 1,441 babies born to 20-year-old mothers to 1 in 84 at age 40. Most babies with Down syndrome are born to mothers who are 35 and under, but this is only because miscarriages of affected fetuses rise after 35. 

Heart Problems

Children from older mothers are more likely to have heart risks later in life. Research has suggested this may be because older mothers are more likely to give birth prematurely, which increases the chances that their offspring will have cardiac issues. There is evidence that heart issues in adulthood can be linked to maternal age. 

Multiple Births

Older mothers are more likely to have twins because they often release two eggs at once. Many mothers over 40 also use fertility treatments to conceive, increasing the chances of multiple births. Multiples are at increased risk of birth defects and injuries, including brain damage that can lead to cerebral palsy.

Neural Tube Defects

Neural tube defects happen in the first month of pregnancy, and they affect the head, spine, and spinal cord. Research has shown that mothers age 40 and over have an increased risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect like spina bifida and anencephaly. 

Why the Babies of Women Over 40 Are at Increased Risk

You are born with every egg you will ever have, which means your eggs age along with you. The older you are, the older your eggs are and the fewer you have. Eggs decline in quality over time. By the time you are 40, your eggs may simply not be viable anymore or they may be damaged. 

The natural ability for a woman to become pregnant declines around age 37, yet births in the 40 to 44 age group have been steadily rising since the early eighties. Rates of birth defects have also steadily increased. Premature birth rates in older women have also risen, which increases the chances the newborn will suffer a birth injury.

Although these statistics can be alarming, there are ways to improve your odds. You can reduce the risk to your child by seeing your doctor regularly and adopting healthy habits. Maintaining a healthy weight, abstaining from cigarettes and alcohol, and eating nutrient-rich foods are habits you can start today if you’re thinking about conceiving.  

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