PSA: Science Says It's Totally Fine to Have Babies After 35

While giving birth after 35 can come with a higher risk of certain complications, most people will have smooth pregnancies and healthy babies. Here's what the science says.

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It's true that pregnant people over age 35 are labeled as having "advanced maternal age. But despite common misconception, they can still have smooth gestations and healthy babies.

"It's normal to be concerned about later age pregnancy, and yet women at the age of 35 are generally healthy and can have babies," says Juli Fraga, Psy.D., a San Francisco-based psychologist specializing in reproductive health. "Even with fertility issues, there are many ways to help families have children, through IVF, donor eggs, or surrogacy," she adds.

This goes against the old cultural message that people over 35 should no longer bear children, which is not true in most cases. "This pre-pregnancy-related anxiety about one's fertility being finished is more of a worry than a reality," reassures Dr. Fraga. Also, pregnancy after peak reproductive years comes with a greater risk of complications, ranging from preeclampsia to miscarriage, but modern medicine can help people overcome many problems.

Here's what science really says about having babies after 35.

It's Common to Have Babies After 35

Birthing parents are delaying having children until later ages, which is a trend that is likely to continue. According to one study, the fastest-growing age group of birthing people stepping into parenthood is the "over-35's."

Pew Research Center points out that the age of people giving birth has increased since the 1990s. Indeed, "the median age at which women become mothers in the U.S. is 26, up from 23 in 1994," according to the think tank. "In 1994, more than half (53%) of women in their early 40s had become mothers by age 24; by 2014, this share had fallen to 39%."

Having Babies After 35 Is Safe

One of the biggest fears around "advanced maternal age" pregnancies is safety. And while it's true that conceiving after 35 comes with an increased risk of complications—like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, chromosomal abnormalities, and even miscarriage or stillbirth—many people go on to deliver healthy babies.

You can take steps to increase your odds of a healthy pregnancy. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this includes eating nutritiously, maintaining a regular exercise routine, not smoking, managing medical problems, and undergoing recommended screenings and diagnostic tests. If your pregnancy is considered high-risk, your health care provider will monitor you accordingly.

And here's another piece of good news: According to a study published December 2021 in JAMA Health Forum, expectant parents who just turned 35 experience better overall prenatal care and pregnancy outcomes than younger pregnant people. That might partly be because older patients receive more attention throughout their pregnancy, thanks to their advanced maternal age.

Older Parents Might Live Longer

The ongoing New England Centenarian Study says that people who gave birth after the age of 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 than those who had children younger. They cite research published in Nature, which states "the ability to have children in the fifth decade may be a marker for slow ageing and subsequent ability to achieve extreme longevity." Maybe there is some truth to the saying that having kids keeps you young!

Happiness might play a role too. In one report published by Sage Journals, researchers looked at data across three studies and found that parents get a happiness from having kids. The study concludes that "parents (and especially fathers) report relatively higher levels of happiness, positive emotion, and meaning in life than do nonparents."

Giving Birth After 35 Might Make You Smarter

Pregnancy can be a wild ride for the human body, and it's easy to think that the lasting effects may be limited to stretch marks or weight gain. But as it turns out, the hormonal aspect can have some surprising impacts later in life.

One study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that people who have birthed children can benefit from the hormones that flood the body and brain during pregnancy. Specifically, "last pregnancy after age 35 was positively associated with verbal memory" later in life.

Gone are the days when it was considered unheard of for parents to have children after the age of 35. With proper support and medical care, parents of any age have every reason to believe that they can have healthy babies.

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  1. Pregnancy and Undue Pressures. J Fam Reprod Health. 2016

  2. Association of Prenatal Care Services, Maternal Morbidity, and Perinatal Mortality With the Advanced Maternal Age Cutoff of 35 YearsJAMA Health Forum. 2021

  3. Middle-aged mothers live longerNature. 1997.

  4. In Defense of Parenthood: Children Are Associated With More Joy Than Misery. Psychological Science. 2013.

  5. Effect of Reproductive History and Exogenous Hormone Use on Cognitive Function in Mid- and Late Life. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2016.

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