Cultural and social norms, together with science and technology, undoubtedly influence health and medical care. For instance, in the mid-twentieth century, American medical and public health achievements greatly improved chances for live births and healthy newborns. Yet, in the 1960s and 1970s, zero population growth advocates held sway over women’s thinking about having more than one or two children.
Another example of the confluence of science and social norms: According to The American Society for Nutritional Sciences (The Journal of Nutrition, 2001), women breastfed for thousands of years. In the 1900s, greater numbers of women left home to work, and artificial ways of baby feeding came on the market with formula milk and packaged baby foods. Bottle-fed babies became the norm, and breastfeeding was largely disdained. In the 1990s, due to cultural norms, opinions shifted again. Today, mothers are encouraged to nurse into toddler age.
Similarly, cultural norms, social acceptability, and science are now extending the age of first and future pregnancies.
Pregnant When Others Are Grandmothers
The stigma of older pregnant women is fading. Today, organizations and schools discourage school-age teen pregnancy, which was the norm for thousands of years, while women having babies at fifty and sixty years of age is no longer incongruous. Delays in the age of child bearing are attributed to careers and higher education pursuits, later age at marriage, and more divorce. Proactive women write support blogs and newspaper articles debunking the stigma and myths (see Mayrav Saar, The New York Post, September 18, 2013).
Fortune (January 14, 2016) reports that the number of women forty and over becoming pregnant is increasing. A first-time fifty-year-old Australian mom blogs at news.som.au about her experiences, including enduring years of treatment, the steep financial costs of trying to become pregnant later in life, and suffering uncomfortable stares and comments from passersby.
For and against Late-Age Pregnancy
Older women clearly have some factors in their favor: They are more financially secure, which allows them to afford rounds of treatments, seek out alternative therapies, and pay for genetic mapping. They can manage their health and fitness and afford the steep costs of raising a child.
However, the majority of medical and science professionals discourage first-time pregnancies for women sixty and older. Some of their reasons are:
* The likelihood older women will have to raise the child as a single parent is significant
* Many develop conditions associated with their advanced age and pregnancy requiring greater monitoring and care resources
* They run a high risk for high blood pressure in pregnancy and preeclampsia
* Fertility diminishes with age, requiring greater emotional and financial investments in the process, and
* Poor women depending on public resources for treatments and services find them lacking, a situation that fuels another front in equal opportunity gaps and resentment
As the number of older pregnant women increases, communities and the workplace will feel the pressure to provide alternative services, flexible work hours, and benefits for them. Planning for this eventuality will save time and money in the future.