Existing Research on Advanced Maternal Age and Risk Perceptions (Part 1.)

Literature Review in ProgressAs we are preparing to conduct our own primary research on the barriers to a healthy pregnancy for women over age 35 and the resources they use, we have done a literature review and will share highlights here and in upcoming posts.

In an article published in 2012 from the BMC Journal of Pregnancy and Childbirth, researchers conducted interviews aiming to identify risk perception and coping mechanisms utilized by a group of 15 Canadian women between ages of 35-44 in the last trimester of their pregnancy (Bayrampour 2012). The study found that in the cases were the women’s previous medical history were absent of risk and conflict, almost all of the mother’s over 35 expected to have a healthy pregnancy. In the cases were women had experienced previous health conflicts in regards to their maternal health, such as complications in their pregnancy, previous unsuccessful attempts trying to have a child, or unfavorable test results, they typically saw their age and overall pregnancy as a risky situation (Bayrampour 2012).

A similar study was published just this year in Sweden. In the study, researchers examined differences in risk perception between mothers both younger and older than age 32. The study showed that the older group of mothers were more likely to consider their pregnancy as being worse than first expected when compared to younger mothers (Aasheim 2013). These reactions were tapered however whenever the older group of mothers were able to deliver through medical interventions such as a cesarean section. These women typically responded more positively to their pregnancy experiences when compared to the younger group (Aasheim 2013).

Some of the other pertinent studies that have been conducted in this area include a 1999 British study that found the majority of a population of 107 advanced maternal age women to perceive their age as a risk towards a healthy pregnancy.

A more substantial study conducted in Australian identified themes in advanced maternal age women’s perceptions towards their advanced maternal age label that included the desire for medical assurance and a struggle to negotiate potential risk adverse behavior (Windredge and Berryman 1999; Carolan 2005).

One of the main findings in all of these articles is that it many women of advanced maternal age perceive their pregnancy as risky.

Commentary from the AMA Researcher: Many things affect this perception though, and it is important to keep these things in mind whenever your own perceptions are formed.

  • Women who have had previous medical issues typically will see themselves as more of a risk when compared to women who have had little to no previous medical concerns.
  • Among these perceptions of risk, some women may only worry about their specific medical plan of treatment while others may experience more of an overall state of anxiety that concerns every aspect of their condition. The level of variance in perception and response is normal.
  • Although women of advanced maternal age may show more signs of risk perception, the variety of their experiences and medical readiness ultimately create a more complicated picture than the current research shows.

Of the existing research that has been published on advanced maternal age issues, very few research articles aim to examine the personal perceptions and psychological responses women experience surrounding the risks of an advanced maternal age pregnancy. Very few U.S. studies have been conducted to date.