Janet Jackson officially acknowledged her first pregnancy Wednesday at age 50. More women are holding off pregnancy until 35 or older, so we had some questions about the risks involved in getting pregnant at "advanced maternal age."
Is it dangerous to have a baby at 50?
Women who are 35 or older are often considered to be at "advanced maternal age." Thirty-five became the cut-off because the likelihood of having a baby with Down syndrome drastically increases starting around the ages of 35 to 37, according to Shannon Clark, Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.
As women (and men) age, they are at an increased risk of chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease— and pregnant women are no exception. If a woman has a chronic medical condition before becoming pregnant, doctors need to make sure it's under control, said Clark, who is also the founder of BabiesAfter35.com.
Even if a mom seems to be completely healthy at age 50, she is still at a higher risk for developing very serious conditions like Preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, Paola Aghajanian, the Director of Labor & Delivery at Cedars-Sinai, told USA TODAY.
Preeclampsia — a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure — could cause stroke or seizure in the mom or the placenta could separate. Unlike gestational diabetes, there is no test to check for preeclampsia and it could "come on pretty quickly," said Aghajanian, who specializes in high risk pregnancies.
But aren't more and more women over 35 having babies?
Yes. Over the past four decades, there has been a dramatic increase in women having babies after 35.
According to a January report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average age of women giving birth increased since 2000, with the age at first birth increasing the most, from 24.9 years in 2000 to 26.3 years in 2014.
Another CDC report found that from 2000 to 2012 the rates of women aged 35-39 giving birth for the first time has steadily increased since the 1970s, from 1.7 per 1,000 women in 1973 to 11 per 1,000 women in 2012.
It also found that women aged 40-44 giving birth for the first time increased more than four-fold from 1985 through 2012 (from 0.5 per 1,000 women to 2.3 per 1,000 women).
Do your chances of having a baby with chromosomal abnormality increase with age?
There are several chromosomal abnormalities a baby can have, but special attention is paid to Down syndrome because some babies with Down syndrome can have completely normal antenatal ultrasounds, Clark said.
According to the National Down Syndrome Society, a 35-year-old woman has about a one in 350 chance of conceiving a child with Down syndrome. The chance increases gradually to one in 100 by age 40 and approximately one in 30 by age 45.
After the pregnancy is formed, there is a chromosome separation of the embryo, Aghajanian said. The older the woman is, the higher the chance that the process will not go smoothly and the pregnancy could end up having an extra chromosome. "Most commonly it's extra chromosome 21 and the fetus has Down syndrome," she said.
Does age affect fertility?
As a woman gets older, her chances of becoming pregnant decrease. A female is born with a fixed number of eggs in her ovaries, and this number decreases as they grow older, according to a report from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The decline in a fertility is due to the decrease in the quantity and quality of eggs.
Why are more women delaying pregnancy?
Modern advances in fertility treatments are helping older women get pregnant who may not have been able to without assistance.
For many, it's a career decision. According to a 2015 study from Pew Research Center, 40% of people say a woman who wants to "reach a top executive position" should hold off having children until she's well established in her career.
"Women want to finish their schooling, complete their educational degrees, or start their career before they start the childbearing process," Aghajanian said. "It mostly has to do with goals of education and their career."