Apr 16, 2024 - News

D.C.'s average birthing age is one of the country's highest

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

Sixty-eight percent of D.C. babies born in 2023 had birth mothers in their 30s or older, according to preliminary CDC data.

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

By the numbers: Currently, 32 is the average age of a woman giving birth in D.C.

  • It's tied with Massachusetts for the highest in the country — the national average is 30.
  • The average in Virginia is also 30, while in Maryland it's 31.

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.

  • 63% of D.C. residents have a bachelor's degree or higher with a median household income of $101,722 per census data. That's compared to 34% and $75,149 nationwide.

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

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

  • Researchers determined that for a pregnant person 35+, the chances of carrying a baby with a genetic condition were greater than the risk of pregnancy loss as a result of getting an amniocentesis to test for that condition, Tiffany Pham, OB-GYN and Flo Health medical adviser tells Axios.

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.

  • We have since learned that the amniocentesis risk is much lower than once thought.
  • And there are now less-invasive and lower-risk procedures for prenatal genetic screening.

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

Yes, but: Women considering having kids by their mid-thirties should be acquainted with their own physiology and possible fertility challenges "much earlier than 35," van Dis says.

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, the women's social app Peanut found that 40% of women in their mid-thirties or older reported a positive shift in language from their healthcare providers, moving away from terms like "geriatric pregnancy" to their recommended "35+ pregnancy."

Axios' Carly Mallenbaum's thought bubble

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