Are you over 35 and anxious about your age affecting your pregnancy and the health of the baby?

New research has found that a mother’s age at childbirth doesn’t matter as much as we think.

A mother’s fears

Previous studies linked an elevated risk of children being born preterm (less than 37 weeks of pregnancy) or with low birth weight (less than 2,5 kilograms) to mothers being 35 or older.

Low birthweight children have more respiratory, cognitive and neurological problems than those born with normal weight. Preterm babies have elevated risks of heart defects, lung disorders, brain damage, and delayed development.

It’s understandable why mothers-to-be in their thirties (and more) would be concerned.

The good news

Contrary to previous research, advanced maternal age per se does not seem to be causing the increase in birth risks.

This is the finding of a new study conducted by Mikko Myrskylä, director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) and Alice Goisis from the London School of Economics.

Thousands of families studied

The researchers looked at thousands of Finnish families where at least two children were born to the same mother between 1987 and 2000.

They found that within the same family the advancing age of the mother did not increase the risk of a poor birth outcome.

The catch

When the researchers compared children born to different mothers at different ages, risks went up notably with the age of the mother.

For example, the probability of a low birthweight for a mother age 40 and above is twice as high (4,4 percent) as compared to a woman between 25 and 29 (2,2 percent).

This means that, on the whole, preterm deliveries or low birthweights still occur more often when the mother is older.

“A doctor who only knows the age of a pregnant woman can still use her age to predict the birth risk,” says Mikko Myrskylä.

“However, for the individual mother, age is not the real cause of the increase in birth risks,” explains Alice Goisis. “The true reasons are more likely to be individual circumstances in the life of the parents or behaviours that are more common in older adults.”

The study did not focus on these individual circumstances, but risk factors may include fertility problems, which are associated both with the risk of poor birth outcomes, the level of maternal stress and unhealthy behaviours.

“Our findings suggest that women should not be concerned about their age per se, when considering to have a child,” says demographer Myrskylä. “It seems that individual life circumstances and behavioural choices are more important than age.”

Source:  Max-Planck-Gesellschaft via