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Is it safe to have a baby at 50?

Dr. Judith Reichman addresses the issue of older women getting pregnant and the health issues they face.
/ Source: TODAY

Q: I keep reading in “People”magazine about women who are over 50 years old who are having babies (I'm assuming with in vitro fertilization and egg donation). Is it safe?

A: A decade ago we didn't think this was possible, but now some women 50 years and older are deciding they want to get pregnant and begin or restart their families. A study published in the journal “Obstetrics & Gynecology” in 2006 reviewed the pregnancy outcomes of 123 women aged 45 and older (24 of these women were between the ages of 50 and 64) who had given birth at one particular hospital. All of the women over 50 years old conceived through in vitro fertilization with oocyte (egg) donation. The study found that the women who were 50 and older were much more likely to be hospitalized during their pregnancy than the women between the ages of 45 and 49 (who are still considered to be “older” when it comes to pregnancy) — 63 percent versus 22 percent. The women were hospitalized for various conditions: vaginal bleeding, high-blood-pressure complications and premature contractions.

Women aged 50 years and older were also twice as likely to give birth to low-birth-weight babies as those who were younger (61 percent versus 32 percent). Also, all of the women 50 years and older gave birth by Caesarean section. This in itself could be considered a complication. Let’s not forget (even though so many women have it) that a C-section increases the risk of bleeding, transfusion and infection, and requires a longer hospital stay and postoperative recovery.

That said, the outcomes were reasonably good for the babies in both groups of women. However, the article did not address whether the much-older moms were as able to devote their time and energy to their newborns (not to mention the next 20 years of childhood and adolescent care) as those who were younger. The authors rightly concluded that when women 50 years and older are contemplating in vitro fertilization and egg donation to establish or increase their families, they should be counseled about the increased risks related to their pregnancy.

Dr. Reichman’s Bottom Line: A decade ago this wasn't even a possibility. Now women over the age of 50 can conceivably use egg donation and in vitro fertilization to get pregnant, but they should be counseled about the risks of the pregnancy.

Dr. Judith Reichman, the TODAY show’s medical contributor on women’s health, has practiced obstetrics and gynecology for more than 20 years. You will find many answers to your questions in her latest book, “Slow Your Clock Down: The Complete Guide to a Healthy, Younger You,” which is now available in paperback. It is published by William Morrow, a division of .

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician.