Apr 10, 2024 - News

Not "geriatric" anymore: Pregnancy at 35 has its pluses

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

Almost 57% of Washington babies born last year had birth mothers in their 30s and older, according to provisional CDC data.

Why it matters: In the last few years, age 35 has gone from the start of "geriatric pregnancy" to a potential maternal-age sweet spot.

By the numbers: In Washington, the average age of women who gave birth in 2023 was 30.3, compared to the national average of 29.6, per the CDC data.

  • Last year, 33% of births were to women ages 30–34.
  • 19% were to women ages 35 to 39, and nearly 5% to those 40-plus.
  • All of those are up compared to 1997, when those age groups carried 23%, 11% and 2%, respectively.

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, OB-GYN and assistant professor at the University of Rochester.

  • Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut are the states with the highest maternal ages, with averages above 31.

Catch up quick: While there is nothing specific that happens after a person turns 35, those pregnancies have typically been regarded as more "high-risk," Alisa Kachikis, assistant professor of maternal-fetal medicine at UW Medicine, told Axios.

  • Nowadays, many more people are choosing to wait to have children until they are more established in their careers, so it is not unusual for pregnant people to be 35 or older, Kachikis said.

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

Reality check: Risks, including of miscarriage, increase much more after age 40, compared to 35, but if you are in good health when you get pregnant, age is likely less of a factor, Kachikis said.

The big picture: Insensitive wording has long added to the stigma around later-in-life pregnancy, but there's been some progress when it comes to maternal health terminology.

  • In a poll of its users last month, women's social app Peanut found that 40% of women in their mid-thirties or older reported a positive switch in language from their health care providers, moving away from terms like "geriatric pregnancy" to the recommended "35-plus pregnancy."

Lauren Frohne, a video journalist who lives in West Seattle, said she experienced that shift when she had her now 2-year-old child at age 36.

  • The midwives clinic she went to didn't use the term "geriatric pregnancy" or overemphasize age-related risks, she said.
  • Plus, slightly older pregnancies seem common in Seattle, she said.
  • "Most of the people I know with 2- to 3-year-old kids are in their mid- to late 30s," she said.
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