More often than ever, women are choosing to have children later in life, with many choosing to give birth after age 40. Researchers now suggest that women over 40 are at a greater risk of preterm birth. They urge healthcare providers to carefully monitor pregnant women over 40 for signs of complications and preterm birth.
For several years, the rate of preterm births in the United States declined, but recently the rate has started to increase again. Today, around one out of 10 babies born in the U.S. is born prior to 37 weeks. Babies born at 37 to 40 weeks are considered “term”, while those born before 37 weeks are considered “preterm” or “premature“. Babies born before 32 weeks are considered “extreme preterm”.
Some suggest that the reason for the increase in preterm births is the fact that more women are having babies later in life. Let’s take a look at what research shows, and why preterm birth is such a significant issue for women. For more information, visit our website, or contact Brown & Brothers to speak with a birth injury attorney.
Researchers Look at Women Over 40 and Preterm Birth
Maternal age has been a controversial aspect of research on the factors leading to preterm birth. In January 2018, Canadian researchers published an article in PLOS ONE with the goal of exploring whether maternal age itself has a positive correlation with preterm birth. Researchers examined data from 184,000 births across 32 hospitals. The study included only women over 20 years old, and excluded women with multiple pregnancies, malformations, or fetal deaths.
To compare the data, researchers broke down participants into five age categories, and the women were compared for factors including characteristics, gestational or obstetric complications, and risk factors for preterm birth. Researchers found common factors leading to preterm birth included assisted reproduction techniques, chronic hypertension, gestational diabetes, and placenta previa.
Researchers then adjusted their data to account for the confounders (listed above), and found that women between the ages of 30 to 34 had the lowest risk of preterm birth. They further reported that maternal age (over 40 years), was associated with preterm birth.
Factors Associated with Preterm Birth
Preventing preterm birth is considered a public health goal. Researchers urge healthcare providers to be mindful of the following factors that are often associated with preterm birth:
- History of preterm birth
- Multiple gestations (twins, triplets, etc.)
- Maternal or fetal infections during pregnancy
- Smoking or substance abuse during pregnancy
- Stress during pregnancy
- Conditions like pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, or HELLP syndrome
- Some studies show that socioeconomic status and race affect the risk of having a preterm birth. African-American women are more likely to experience preterm birth, as are women of low-socioeconomic status.
Thanks to research like that discussed above, maternal age can now be added as one of the factors associated with preterm birth. Determining that maternal age is independently associated with an increased risk can help healthcare providers better understand the risks and monitor women during pregnancy. It is important that women understand all the risks associated with pregnancy, including those based on their age, weight, and overall health.
Risks of Preterm Birth
The last few weeks of pregnancy are critical to proper development of the lungs and other vital organs. Babies who are born prematurely are at an increased risk of health and cognitive problems. Preterm labor and delivery may lead to:
- Hearing or vision problems
- Breathing difficulties
- Feeding difficulties
- Developmental delays
- Behavioral or emotional problems
- Cerebral palsy
The delicate, and sometimes emergent, nature of preterm birth can also increase the risk of birth injuries. Healthcare providers must be careful in how they handle preterm labor and delivery. These cases often require a Cesarean (c-section), which can quickly become complicated depending on the factors leading up to the birth. Though more research is needed to say for certain, maternal age and related health factors may also increase the risk of complications during birth.
Following a premature birth, the infant most likely will stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for a period of time. The length of stay and treatments required will depend on how premature the infant was born, and what comorbid conditions or other health risks he or she has at birth. Premature infants often require a feeding tube, breathing assistance, vaccinations, jaundice lights, and constant monitoring of vital signs.
Have Questions about Preterm Birth and Your Rights?
If you have medical-related questions about preterm birth, your best bet is contacting your healthcare provider. If, however, you have legal-related questions – such as your legal rights as a patient, how to know if negligence contributed to a traumatic birth, or how to file a birth injury lawsuit – your best bet is to contact Brown & Brothers.
At Brown & Brothers, our team of birth injury attorneys is skilled in offering legal guidance that is kind, compassionate, and tailored to your situation. To learn more about your legal rights, fill out our online form and we will schedule your free case evaluation.