The Risk of Giving Birth Later In Life

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  • 0:01 Problems with Increased Age
  • 0:45 A Higher Risk for…
  • 2:33 Down Syndrome, Autism,…
  • 3:30 Complications that…
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

As a woman ages, the chances that she will have problems during pregnancy, birth, and thereafter increase. That's in addition to the potential problems the child may face. Find out about the risks of giving birth later in life in this lesson.

Problems with Increased Age

Giving birth to a healthy and happy baby is every parent's dream. Having a baby without an increased risk to the mother is also very important. But as all of us age, the chances that something will go wrong with us increases. You know this already; older men are more likely to have a heart attack, older women are more likely to have fragile bones, and both men and women start suffering from memory problems as they age. It's almost inevitable. The best thing we can do is educate ourselves on these risks so we're not caught by surprise. That's what this lesson intends to do with a specific topic: pregnancy and birth in older women.

A Higher Risk for Breast Cancer

As a woman ages past 30, there is an ever-increasing chance of complications during pregnancy and birth. That's only the beginning though, because the perils of after-effects on a woman's body also increase, as do the chances that a child is born with a problem.

First, women who have their first full-term pregnancy after age 30 are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the U.S., just behind the number one spot occupied by lung cancer. It is also the second most common cause of cancer in women in the U.S., just behind skin cancer. To put the threat of developing breast cancer after age 30 into perspective for you, consider this: a woman who has her first full-term pregnancy after age 30 is upwards of two times more likely to develop this terrible disease than a woman who has a child before the age of 20.

Scientists don't know exactly why this is the case. Research suggests that early pregnancy helps to beneficially alter the way cells in the breast respond to hormonal changes during pregnancy, leading to a decreased risk of cancer. But as a person ages, this ability for cells to alter the way they act seems to diminish. This is compounded by the fact that, as we age in general, we all develop cancer predisposing mutations in our cells (the many reasons for this are way beyond the scope of this lesson). Moreover, such age-related mutations are more likely to be tipped over the edge into actual cancer territory by the hormonal influences of pregnancy as a whole.

Down Syndrome, Autism, & Age at Birth

Further still, at age 30, a woman's chances of giving birth to a child with Down syndrome are about 1 in 1,000. Down syndrome is an incurable genetic disorder that results in a child having mental disabilities, a small head, short neck, and flattened facial features. By age 35 the chances are about 1 in 400, and at age 40 they are 1 in 100, and the likelihood that a mother that gives birth at age 45 will have a child with Down syndrome is 1 in 30.

Additionally, women who give birth at age 40 or over are 77% more likely to have a child with autism than women who give birth prior to age 25. Autism is a developmental disorder that makes it difficult for a child to communicate and interact with other people.

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