AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)– You might not have noticed, but American women on average have been having fewer and fewer babies with each decade. And data shows women are waiting longer to become mothers.

The average age of women having their first child has risen to 26, according to the CDC. Back in 2000, it was just under 25 years old. Researchers say the rise is partly because there are fewer mothers under the age of 20. They also say economic factors play a part and more women are putting off motherhood for education or a career.

A government study shows the number of women waiting until age 35 or older to give birth went from one in 100 back in 1970 to one in 12 today.

While the choice to have a baby when you’re an older mom can come with its own challenges, advances in care from fertility counseling to prenatal care are putting the experience of having that new baby within reach. Dr. Larry Layman is a professor and chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility and genetics. And Dr. James Maher is chief of maternal and fetal medicine. They’re both at the Medical College of Georgia.

Let’s talk a little bit about some of the physical risks that you all see with older moms. And one of them is the risk of blood pressure. That’s something that you’re really watching with an older mom.

Dr. James Maher: “Yes, that’s correct. We have a lot of moms that when they get pregnant, they’re older. And so they’re more likely to have underlying vascular changes, possibly heavier and higher risk for underlying hypertension. Then when they get pregnant, they have a higher risk of developing pregnancy-associated hypertension or preeclampsia.”

Dr. Maher says your metabolism slows down as you get older, which impacts pregnancy.

“You can’t eat the same way you did as teenager. But the hormones of pregnancy, you’re telling your body, I want those calories. And so it can be throwing gasoline on the barbecue grill to try and… If you gain an excessive amount of calories, excessive amount of weight during pregnancy, you’re going to see a substantial increase in the risk of weight gain, the increase of diabetes, increase in the risk of hypertension, increase in the risk of cesarean delivery. So all of it tends to feed together.”

Another concern for older moms is infertility.

“We usually define infertility as a year of unprotected intercourse. If you’re 35 and older, we say six months. So we do try to be a little more expeditious when people are getting older. I mean, it’s not like there’s a sudden break point at 35 and it goes up. It’s gradual. So we do talk about increased risk of genetic issues.”

Dr. Layman treats patients experiencing infertility.

“The biggest thing is we realize we go to IVF sooner, in vitro fertilization. So surgery helps somewhat. I mean, it helps the symptoms of endometriosis, but IVF gives better pregnancy rates. If you’ve had unprotected sex for a year and you haven’t had a pregnancy, then you’re gonna consider maybe moving on into IVF. First we do an evaluation. We check sperm, we check the tubes to see if they’re open. We assess ovulation. We do kind of pre-implantation prenatal screening. And then, depending on what we find, we might consider giving an ovulation medicine like clomiphene for three months with insemination, because that’s markedly cheaper and less hassle. And then if that doesn’t work, IVF.”

Dr. Maher says the chance of a miscarriage is higher in an older mom.

“Yes, that is true. We see that, again, as moms get older, as they delay childbearing, they’re more likely, when they get pregnant, first of all, they’re more likely to have trouble getting pregnant, which is why we like to get them to see reproductive endocrinology so they can understand the risks if they’re planning on pregnancy, or planning on delaying for any period of time.

“But when they do get pregnant, a lot of miscarriages happen very early. Basically, mother nature is very hostile to less than perfect pregnancies. And so you’ll see a lot of miscarriages in the first six to eight weeks of pregnancy.

The risk of carrying a baby with down syndrome or other chromosome abnormalities is still higher. And it’s dependent mostly on the mom’s age. The older the mom, the higher the chances that the baby could have a chromosome abnormality, which can lead to birth defects or other developmental problems.”