Giving Birth After 50: Higher Risks
Study Shows More Pregnancy Complications for Women Over Age 50
Nov. 10, 2006 -- More women than ever are giving birth after age 50, thanks
to the increasing use of infertility treatments.
Just how risky are these late-life pregnancies for both mother and baby?
Riskier than giving birth even a few years earlier, according to findings from
one of the first studies to address the issue.
Women in the Israeli study who gave birth in their sixth decade and beyond
had a much higher risk of pregnancy- and delivery-related complications
than women who gave birth in their mid- to late 40s.
The older women in the study were hospitalized during pregnancy almost three
times as often as the 45- to 49-year-old women, and twice as many delivered
Researchers from Israel's Sheba Medical Center characterized the findings
among women 50 and older as "disturbing," but they also found reason
"It was encouraging to see that the pregnancy outcome in our (45-plus)
population was generally good," they wrote.
Childbirth After Menopause
Giving birth after age 50 is not common. Of the roughly 12 million births in
the U.S. between 1997 and 1999, only about 500 involved women who were 50 or
The vast majority of these births involved donor eggs from younger women, a
practice that has made childbirth among menopausal women possible.
Twenty-four women who gave birth between the ages of 50 and 64 were included
in the new study. All the women conceived via in vitro fertilization using
donor eggs, and all delivered at the Sheba Medical Center between January 1999
and June 2004.
Their pregnancy outcomes were compared with those of 99 women between the
ages of 45 and 49, who also gave birth at the center during the same
Well over half of the age 50-plus mothers-to-be (63%) were hospitalized
during pregnancy, compared with 22% of the women who were younger than 50.
And 61% of the age 50-plus women delivered low-birth-weight babies, compared
with 32% of women between the ages of 45 and 49.
The average gestational age at birth for single babies born to the older
mothers was 36.9 weeks, compared with 38.4 weeks among the younger women.
The incidence of pregnancy-related diabetes and hypertension was high overall -- 21% and 28%
respectively. But the complications occurred with the same frequency in both
The study is published in the November issue of the journal Obstetrics
How Babies Fared
The good news from the study was that despite a high rate of pregnancy
complications, birth outcomes were generally good.
No severe birth defects related to premature delivery occurred among the
babies born to the women in the study, even though the premature birth rate was
Russell Kirby, PhD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, was a
researcher on one of the few other published studies to examine birth outcomes
among women 50 and older.
Kirby and colleagues' review of birth records among babies in the U.S. born
between 1997 and 1999 also indicated that the risk to both the mother and baby
increases as the age of the mother increased.
"Women who contemplate a pregnancy in their 50s need to be made aware
that they face increased risk and so do their babies," Kirby tells WebMD.
"But that doesn't mean that [late-life] pregnancies should not be
attempted. I would be a strong advocate of patient choice in this matter, but
women have to know the risks."