Study Finds Safest Age for Pregnancy to Minimize Birth Defect

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Congenital anomalies (CAs), which account for many infant deaths worldwide, affect 3-5% of births globally. The EUROCAT survey indicates an average relative frequency of congenital disabilities in Europe of 23.9 per 1000 births. Studies suggest that CAs contribute to around 6% of infant deaths globally, while other research suggests that approximately 20% of neonatal and infant mortality is attributable to CAs. 

Scientists from Semmelweis University in Budapest, Hungary, conducted a study to determine the optimal maternal age for childbirth concerning non-genetic birth anomalies. Published in BJOG: an International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, the study revealed that the “safest age” to have a child is between 23 and 32, as the likelihood of specific congenital disabilities is lowest within that age range. 

The research team examined the relationship between maternal age and non-genetic birth anomalies. They identified the ten years with the lowest occurrence of congenital abnormalities, which fell between 23 and 32 years of age. Additionally, they identified age groups with a higher risk of such anomalies than the safest period. 

Analyzing data from the Hungarian Case-Control Surveillance of Congenital Abnormalities spanning 1980 to 2009, the scientists studied 31,128 pregnancies affected by non-chromosomal developmental disorders. They found that the risk of non-chromosomal abnormalities increased by 20% for births under the age of 22 and by 15% for births above the age of 32, compared to the ideal childbearing age of 23-32. 

For young mothers, central nervous system malformations of the fetus were the most prominent anomaly. The risk of these malformations generally increased by 25% in the under-22 age category, with an even higher rise below the age of 20. Among older mothers, the risk of congenital disorders affecting the head, neck, ears, and eyes doubled (a 100% increase), particularly in pregnancies over 40. 

Professor Nándor Ács, the director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Semmelweis University, emphasized that non-genetic birth disorders can often be attributed to long-term exposure to environmental factors. Given the trend of delayed childbearing in developed countries, it becomes increasingly important to respond appropriately to this shift. While previous research has established a correlation between genetic disorders like Down syndrome and maternal age, knowledge regarding non-chromosomal anomalies remains incomplete. 

The findings indicate that some NCAs are significantly correlated with maternal age: a noticeable increase in risk might be seen for very young or advanced maternal age or both – specific age limitations changing by disease. This calls for the use of enhanced screening procedures. Currently, neither fetal neuro sonography nor fetal echocardiography is recommended according to the maternal age, even though doing so would help find the corresponding NCAs. Furthermore, very young groups should have the same consideration as older mothers. 

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