Delayed childbirth may have long-term health consequences for mother

March 26, 2002

Women who delay childbirth until after the age of 35 may be more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure, according to a new study.

But later childbearing may also provide some health benefits, including slightly reduced risk of stroke and some protection against bone density loss, the study showed.

"The results ... suggest that bearing children after the age of 35 may have a selective impact on long-term health status among women over the age of 50," says Angelo Alonzo, Ph.D. of Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

This study is published in the current issue of Women's Health Issues.

Alonzo analyzed data on 6,559 women collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III, 1988-1994. Of those surveyed, 84 percent had their children by the age of 35, 2 percent had their first child after the age of 35 and 14 percent started childbearing before and continued after 35 years of age.

Several of the health indicators evaluated, such as heart attack, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes and dental and vision-related health problems, were worse in women who waited to have children. Increased rates of pregnancy-related diabetes and pregnancy-induced high blood pressure may occur among older childbearing women who are predisposed due to a strong family history.

However, delayed childbearing reduced the risk of stroke slightly and reduced the risk for high cholesterol, protected bone density and decreased frequency of bladder infections among women having children after age 35. In general, these women did not view themselves as less healthy than early child bearers.

Trends suggest that women are beginning to postpone childbirth in increasing numbers. "Although delaying childbearing may indicate a readiness on the part of women and men to delay becoming parents," Alonzo concludes that not all the data is in "about the long-term health consequences of such decisions."
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Women's Health Issues (WHI) is the official publication of The Jacobs Institute of Women's Health and the only journal devoted to women's health issues at the medical/social interface. It is a journal for health professionals, social scientists, policy makers and others concerned with the complex and diverse facets of health care delivery to women. WHI publishes peer-reviewed articles as well as position papers and reports from conferences and workshops sponsored by The Jacobs Institute of Women's Health. For information about the journal, contact Warren H. Pearse, M.D., at (202) 863-2454.

Center for Advancing Health

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