How safe for women having children in their 50s?
Although science has fixed the best period a woman should have babies to be between 26 and 36 years, more women are having children close to menopausal age. This period, medical doctors have said, guarantees that mother and child are in good health, especially the woman, who needs to quickly recuperate after the ordeal of pregnancy and childbirth.
Due to a variety of reasons, however, it is becoming a trend for some women to delay pregnancy till they are in their 40s and even 50s. But how safe and healthy is this for both mother and child? Is it a positive development for the society, especially considering the generational gap?
Corroborating that it is better for women to have children early, Dr. Oseyi Okiawele, Senior Registrar, department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Benin Teaching Hospital, said the most successful reproductive outcomes are seen in women having children between 24 and 30 years.
“This is a period, when fertility is at its peak,” he explained. “In addition, there is a reduced incidence of adverse outcome worsened by chronic medical conditions, such as, diabetes mellitus, hypertension and chromosomal abnormalities like Down’s syndrome.
“Industrialisation and urbanisation have, however, led to women delaying marriage and childbirth in order to advance their education or career. Subsequently, many more women are having children later in life. Previously, it was very rare for women to have children in their 50’s. But with the advent of Artificial Reproductive Techniques, women can now have children even after menopause with the use of drugs and donor gametes (eggs and sperm) from others.”
Okiawele said it is possible for women in their 50’s to have perfectly healthy children, but that there is an increased risk of chromosomal abnormalities, especially from natural pregnancies, where their own ‘ageing’ eggs are used.
He said: “The women are also at risk. The older people get, the more likely they are to have such chronic medical conditions as hypertension and diabetes mellitus, which may worsen in pregnancy and may also, worsens the outcome of pregnancy. There is also a risk of complications from fertility procedures, which could, however, be minimised in competent and experienced hands. Multiple pregnancies, like twins and triplets, are desired by many couples to maximise the benefits of this expensive procedure, but this comes with its own risks for the mother, including anemia in pregnancy, preterm labour and delivery and increased hospitalisation for bed rest amongst others.
“Every woman contemplating pregnancy in her 50’s should weigh the risks and benefits. Those women, who do not have any children, may want to have a child to call their own. This is especially important in a society like ours, where there is a high premium placed on children in marriage. Those women who already have children may be better off not having more children at advanced ages, because of the increased morbidity and adverse outcome.”
Dr. Nwogbo Chioma, a medical doctor at St. Mary’s Catholic Hospital, Isolo, said: “a woman getting pregnant at 50 is a high-risk venture, as opposed to a younger person. The ligaments, joints and pelvic organs of an older person, which should aid delivery, would all have become weak. So, normal delivery is most times a no-no for such persons. There are also increased chances of complications due to the age. The older woman won’t be as strong or as vital as a younger person, and this could cause complications for the baby (foetal distress), with the mother ending up with severe bleeding, since she is not able to push.
“Similarly, during the course of the pregnancy, the mother can have a lot of complications, including hypertension, diabetes and epilepsy. The child can be affected with chromosomal abnormalities (Down syndrome and diabetes.
“It could be safer, if the mother is in her 30’s, the high risk starts from 38 years. So, for women in their 50’s to get pregnant is a high risk and shouldn’t be encouraged. We know that women are getting married very late because they want to achieve a lot career-wise. The general make-up of the mother plays a role in ensuring safe pregnancy.
“It is, therefore, advisable that women who are getting older and approaching menopause, but who still desire to have babies, should freeze their eggs, so they can have babies when they are ready. No one would be able to tell the difference, when the IVF process is done. Women, who are menopausal can do IVF, by getting eggs from younger girls and fusing such with their husbands’ sperm and they can then carry the pregnancy, no one will know. However, this should be avoided, as much as possible, because the risk is far too high.”