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More Women Delaying First Pregnancy: CDC

First births to women 35 and older have increased dramatically over last 40 years

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Barbara Bronson Gray

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, May 9, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- New U.S. government data confirms the trend: the average age when women have their first babies continues to increase.

For the last four decades, women, on average, have been having first babies later in life than ever before. In 2012, the latest year for which data are available, there were more than nine times as many first births to women 35 and older than there were 40 years ago. Among younger women -- those under 30, and, particularly, those under 20 years old -- first births have actually declined.

"We've been seeing this for a while now, but it's somewhat breathtaking to see how broadly it has occurred among both age groups [those 35 to 39, and those 40 to 44]," said T.J. Mathews, a demographer with the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issued the report May 9 in the NCHS Data Brief.

The data was compiled from U.S. state birth certificates nationwide, taken from the Natality Data File of the National Vital Statistics System. The analysis includes data on all births occurring in the United States, including maternal and infant demographics, and health characteristics for babies born in the country.

The findings suggest possible medical and lifestyle implications, experts said.

The fact that more first births are occurring among women 35 and older suggests family sizes will be declining, since the ability to conceive drops with age, noted Mathews.

"The number of births delayed might mean you're really not going to have three children," Mathews added.

One medical expert agreed. "After 34, your chances of getting pregnant spontaneously, without the help of reproductive endocrinology or fertility services, exponentially decline," said Dr. Catherine Herway, assistant director of maternal-fetal medicine at Staten Island University Hospital, in New York City.

Older women are also at greater risk of having complicating health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease when they become pregnant, noted Herway. They also are at higher risk for pre-eclampsia, a condition of pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine.

On a positive note, Elizabeth Gregory, director of the women's gender and sexuality studies program at the University of Houston, thinks children of relatively older parents probably fare better. "For kids getting more mature and more educated parents, there are demonstrable outcomes, such as living at a higher economic level," she said.

Gregory, who has written a book on the benefits of later motherhood, noted that for each year of delay a college graduate makes, she will be likely to earn more. "On average, her long-term salary will increase, so over her career her salary will be twice what it would have been if she'd started at 22. [She can expect] about a 12 percent gain in long-term salary per year [of delaying pregnancy]," she said.

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