Does maternal age affect the timing and ease of birth?

Several studies have shown that the womb may not work as well in older women. This may be because the muscle produces less energy so that contractions are less effective, so labour isn't triggered in the same way as in younger women.

The average age at which women are having their first child has been gradually increasing: now, many pregnant women are over the age of 35. Pregnancy at older ages increases the risk of complications during pregnancy and labour. These include miscarriage, induction of labour, caesarean section, instrument-assisted delivery, labour that doesn’t progress and bleeding after delivery.

Several studies have shown that the womb may not work as well in older women. This may be because the muscle produces less energy so that contractions are less effective. This means that labour isn't triggered in the same way as in younger women. By understanding these changes, we can give better care to older mothers to help them have safe pregnancies. 

We studied mice to find out more about the effects of maternal age on the function of the womb and cervix, and how age can affect pregnancy. We found that the signals that determine when birth happens decrease with age, affecting the preparation of these tissues for labour.

The function of the womb and the cervix also appear to get worse in older mothers. If these age-related changes also occur in humans, then we will need to find ways of helping them overcome these problems during pregnancy by changing clinical practice. We hope to continue this work and extend it to looking at humans.

Researchers

Dr Rachel Tribe, Dr Rima Patel, Professor Lucilla Poston, Mr Paul Seed

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Funding

This study takes place in a Tommy's centre and is funded by Tommy's and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

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