Tag Archives: childbirth

Credit: Pixabay.

What is the ‘right’ age to have a child? Here’s what the science says

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Over the past three decades, there has been a steady increase in the average age of parents. Advances in fertility science mean that people can, literally, put their eggs or sperm on ice and delay the start of parenthood. Many large companies, such as Apple, Facebook and Google, now offer egg freezing to employees as part of their healthcare package. Putting off having a baby has never been easier or more socially acceptable. But is it a good thing?

There are three things to consider. Will your child be healthy? Will you get pregnant? How much will it cost?

Parents have a moral obligation to give their child the best start in life. But children born to mothers over the age of 35 and fathers over the age of 45 are at greater risk of having genetic and neurodevelopmental disorders, such as schizophrenia and autism, which arguably affects the child’s quality of life.

Also, older parents are more likely to need assisted reproduction, such as IVF, which is associated with babies being born early or with low birth weight. Babies born via IVF are also at higher risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease in later life.

If prospective parents freeze their eggs or sperm when they are younger, they can reduce some age-associated risks but not those due to IVF. The method of fertilisation in IVF with frozen eggs is intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), where sperm is injected into the egg. ICSI can also increase the risk of birth defects in children. Using ICSI is also more common in older men where sperm motility is poor. Again, not the best start in life.

So you’ve decided to wait

If you want to wait to have children, you are not alone.

Most couples will fall pregnant after trying for a year. Although one in seven couples has trouble conceiving – and age is a big player in this. One in six women aged between 35 and 39 years of age will not conceive after one year. If their partner is over 40, this drops to more than one in four.

IVF is seen by many as a fail-safe way of conceiving, but its success is also governed by age. For a woman using her own eggs, the success of IVF over 40 is less than 10%.

The risks of delaying parenthood have been simulated with computer modelling. If a 30-year-old woman delays trying for a baby from age 30 until 35, her chances of falling pregnant are reduced by 9%, but IVF will only compensate for 4%.

And if you want to freeze eggs, great. Except women produce fewer eggs (“oocytes”) as they get older, so older women may need more rounds of stimulation to store the eight to ten eggs needed for a reasonable chance of a successful birth – and this can be extremely expensive.

What will it cost you?

Although IVF is expensive, there are also other significant indirect costs of having a child.

The “motherhood wage penalty” is often cited in economic discussions about the effect of motherhood on women’s careers. It is the loss of earnings women are subjected to as they move into a non-paid job for a period of time. There is some evidence to suggest that women can earn more by delaying motherhood from their early twenties to early thirties.

But this wage penalty does not appear to be gender specific. A paternity quota of parental leave was introduced by the Norwegian government in 1993, and a study found a similar negative effect on the earnings of stay-at-home fathers.

The bottom line is, if you take time out to have a family there will be a drop in earnings.

When to start?

The scientific data is clear. The “right” age to have a child according to your biological clock is under 35 for women and under 40 for men.

More than 75% of young people underestimate the impact of age on male and female fertility – yet only 27% of doctors discuss this with patients aged 18-34 years who wish to delay childbearing for social reasons. There needs to be a greater awareness about the risks of delaying family planning, and family doctors should play a more proactive role in this.

So, ultimately, if you want to have a child, the right age may be sooner than you thought.

Charlotte Walker, DPhil Candidate in Women’s and Reproductive Health, University of Oxford and Suzannah Williams, Principal Investigator, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Childbirth can make women’s cells age faster than smoking or obesity

We all know that pregnancy and childbirth change women’s minds and bodies. A new study has found that women who give birth can age very fast, genetically speaking. But how?

Via Pixabay/marvelmozhko

Researchers collected DNA data from 1,505 different women from the US, with ages ranging from twenty to forty-four and discovered that having children significantly altered genetic markers of aging — telomeres, to be exact.

Telomeres are repetitive DNA fragments found at each end of the chromosomes, which protects them from deterioration or from fusion with neighboring chromosomes. At birth, our telomeres are long, but with each cell replication, telomeres grow shorter. Thus, telomere length decreases from birth to death and is considered a marker of aging. Shorter telomeres are correlated with outcomes like cancer, heart disease, and cognitive decline. Another cause of telomere shortening is stress,

Epidemiologist Anna Pollack from George Mason University and her team analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) – one of the largest cross-sectional studies charting the wellness of people in the US.

Researchers analyzed data collected between the years 1999–2002, a period in which the survey included telomere measurements, and discovered something unsettling.

Once the team had adjusted for things like age, ethnicity, education, and smoking status, they discovered that women who had given birth to at least one child had telomeres that were 4.2 percent shorter on average than those of women who had not borne children.

Researchers explain that this percentage translates to around 11 years of rapid cellular aging. Compared to smoking (a cost of 4.6 years of cellular aging) and obesity (8.8 years), motherhood seems to be the champion of accelerated  DNA aging.

The study also revealed that the more children you have, the more your telomeres shrink.

“We found that women who had five or more children had even shorter telomeres compared to those who had none, and relatively shorter relative to those who had one, two, three or four, even,” Pollack told Newsweek.

The authors attributed telomere shortening to the stress accompanying having children, but they are not yet entirely sure of the cause. This study was purely observational, showing only a correlation between the two.

A 2016 study that analyzed telomere size in Mayan communities in Guatemala found that women in the community that had more surviving children had longer telomeres, suggesting that having children could actually protect women from cellular aging. Researchers believe that Mayan communities give more social support to their mothers than the US does — a great deal of stress being involved in the upbringing of the US kids.

“Anecdotally, just chatting with my friends who have children, we all do feel that having kids has aged us,” Pollack said to Newsweek. “But scientifically, this does fit with what we understand pretty well. We know that having kids is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. And some large studies have linked telomere length to mortality risk and risks of other major diseases.”

Of course, having a child doesn’t mean you literally age 11 years. The authors write that their dataset lacked information on social factors, stress and fertility status, which may help explain these findings. With only two other previous studies regarding this matter being published, this paper‘s findings should be interpreted with caution, the authors warn.