Older Moms' Kids Healthier, Smarter

Children born to older moms tend to have better health and development scores

(RxWiki News) Most people have heard that it can be more risky to have children after age 35. However, these concerns usually relate to birth complications and not to the children's development.

A recent study has actually found that having an older mom may mean better health and development for a child.

"Just ask your OB/GYN."

The study, led by Alastair G. Sutcliffe, of the Institute of Child Health at University College London, aimed to find out whether there were links between a mother's age when she had a child and the child's long-term health and development.

The study began with 31,257 children when they were 9 months old. The children were involved with the Millennium Cohort Study and The National Evaluation of Sure Start study, both random samples of children in the United Kingdom.

When the children were 3 years old, 24,781 remained in the study, and when they were 5, 22,504 remained in the study. The ages of the mothers involved ranged from age 13 to 57.

The researchers analyzed the children's accidental injuries, hospital admissions, immunizations, weight, language development They also looked at any problems the kids had with social development at age 3 and 5.

Then they compared these measures to the mother's age when she gave birth. They found that older mothers overall tended to have healthier and better developed children than younger mothers based on the factors the authors studied.

The older a child's mother was, for example, the less likely it was that the child would be admitted to the hospital for something or have an accidental injury requiring medical attention.

For instance, among the kids at age 3, 37 percent of the children born to moms aged 20 were at risk of an accidental injury compared to 29 percent of moms aged 40.

The decrease in hospital admissions among the 3-year-olds was from 27 percent of the younger moms' kids to 22 percent of the older moms' kids.

The researchers also saw a higher rate of completed immunizations among the children of older moms. While the percentage of fully immunized 9-month-olds was 94.6 percent for the 20-year-old moms, it was 98.1 percent for the 40-year-old moms.

This association between the mother's age and the children's immunization rates changed, however, as the child got older when the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine was factored in.

At age 3, the mothers most likely to have their children fully immunized were age 27 — at a rate of 81.3 percent — and the younger and older moms' kids had lower rates.

When the researchers didn't consider the MMR vaccine, they saw no difference in the mothers' ages and their children's vaccination rates. They suspect the reason for the change is related to concerns about the MMR vaccine that were in the media during the study.

The researchers found improved language development among the children of the older mothers as well. The 20-year-old mothers' children were slightly behind the 40-year-old mothers' children when the kids were 3 and 4 years old.

The kids born to older moms also had fewer social and emotional problems, especially compared to the children of teenagers.

Overall, the researchers found that an older age in a mother when she gave birth was linked to better health and development for her child at least until the child was 5 years old.

There was an increase in a child's risk of being overweight with older moms, but this risk disappeared when the researchers adjusted their calculations to take into account the mothers' weight.

The researchers pointed out that the better health of older moms' kids differed from the concerns related to birth complications, disorders or miscarriages that are more likely among older pregnant women, especially those over age 35.

"In contrast with the obstetric risks known to be associated with older motherhood, these results indicate that increasing maternal age was associated with children having fewer hospital admissions and unintentional injuries, a greater likelihood of better protection from ill health through completed immunizations by age 9 months, better language development and fewer social and emotional difficulties," they wrote.

The study was published August 21 in BMJ. The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust, and the authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 22, 2012