Apr 11, 2024 - News

Pregnancy at 35 has its pluses for women in California

Share of California babies born to mothers in select age&nbspgroups
Data: CDC Wonder; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

In the last few years, age 35 has gone from the start of "geriatric pregnancy," to potentially a maternal-age sweet spot in California.

Why it matters: Women who give birth at later ages have long faced stigma in discussions of fertility and motherhood. But some research suggests that being 35+ and pregnant could lead to better brainpower after menopause and a smaller gender wage gap.

By the numbers: Today, 30.7 is roughly the average age of a woman giving birth in California, according to provisional CDC data.

  • In the Golden State, 59% of babies born in 2023 had birth mothers in their 30s and older, including 27% who had birth mothers 35 and older.

What they're saying: Regions with higher income and education levels "are correlated with increased advanced maternal age," partly because women there are deliberately delaying pregnancy for economic reasons, says Jane van Dis, an OB-GYN and assistant professor at the University of Rochester.

  • A 2018 New York Times analysis found that women in San Francisco County become first-time mothers at age 31.9 on average.

The intrigue: A 2021 JAMA Health Forum study showed that 35-year-olds received more prenatal monitoring and had a small decrease in prenatal mortality compared to those even a few months younger.

Catch up quick: The start of "advanced maternal age" became 35 decades ago, thanks to studies on the then-new invasive genetic test called an amniocentesis.

  • But that's a "dated paradigm" and "there's nothing really particularly magic" about age 35, says Alison Cahill, professor and associate dean of translation research at the University of Texas at Austin's Dell Medical School.

Reality check: Risks, including of miscarriage, increase much more after age 40, compared to 35.

  • New ACOG guidelines emphasize that pregnancy risks should be considered among patients in five-year age groups — ages 35-39, 40-44, etc. — instead of a big advanced maternal age group.
  • Yes, but: Women considering having kids by their mid-30ss should be acquainted with their own physiology and possible fertility challenges "much earlier than 35," Van Dis says.

The big picture: Women's social app Peanut, in a poll of its users last month, found that 40% of women in their mid-30s or older reported a positive shift in language from their health care providers, moving away from terms like "geriatric pregnancy" to their recommended "35+ pregnancy."

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