Absolute risks of obstetric outcomes by maternal age at first birth: a population-based cohort

Epidemiology. 2018 May;29(3):379-387. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000818.


Background: First deliveries in women older than 35, 40, or 45 years are at increased risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes compared with those in younger women. However, specific relationships between each additional year of maternal age and pregnancy risks remain unclear, and absolute risks at each maternal age are not known.

Methods: Using a population-based cohort of nulliparous women in British Columbia, Canada, from 2004 to 2014 (n = 203,414), We examined relationships between maternal age (modeled flexibly to allow curvilinear shapes) and pregnancy outcomes using logistic regression. We plotted absolute predicted risks to display curves from age 20 to 50 estimated for two risk profiles: (1) population average values of all risk factors; (2) a low-risk profile without preexisting diabetes/hypertension, smoking, prior spontaneous/therapeutic abortion, diagnosed infertility, inadequate prenatal care, low income, rural residence, or obesity.

Results: Risks of hypertensive disorders increased gradually until age 35, then accelerated. Risk of multiple gestations, major congenital anomalies, and maternal mortality or severe morbidity increased slowly until age 30, then accelerated. Cesarean delivery and gestational diabetes risks increased linearly with age. While indicated preterm delivery increased rapidly with maternal age, spontaneous preterm delivery did not. Stillbirth, neonatal mortality, and infant mortality had j-shaped relationships with maternal age, with nadirs near 30. Despite age-related increases, risks of severe outcomes remained low for women 35 and 40: < 1-2% for severe maternal morbidity and 5-7% for fetal-infant composite.

Conclusions: This study provides risks for specific maternal ages to inform clinical counseling and public health messaging regarding the potential implications of delayed childbearing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Birth Order*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Delivery, Obstetric*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Maternal Age*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome*
  • Registries
  • Risk Assessment / methods