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How Old Is Too Old for a Second Child in China?

How old is too old for a second child in China? (Image: Anja Disseldorp
   via   flicker  /  CC BY 2.0 )
How old is too old for a second child in China? (Image: Anja Disseldorp via flicker / CC BY 2.0 )

On December 28, 2016 at Hospital Number Two at Jilin University, a woman gave birth by C-section to a large baby boy, weighing in at 9.5 pounds. What makes this story remarkable is the fact she gave birth at age 64, making her the oldest new mother in Mainland China.

The hospital revealed that the new mother had been post-menopausal for the last 10 years, and the baby was conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF). The successful pregnancy and birth was attributed to the mother’s strong will and the high quality of medical care that she received while pregnant.

Policy change and new opportunity for older couples

Policy change and new opportunity for older couples. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Policy change and new opportunity for older couples. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Since the introduction of the “one-child policy” by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) some 35 years ago, it is estimated that more than 400 million babies have been lost to mandatory miscarriages and abortions.

The CCP abandoned it’s one child policy in October 2015, and many couples are now hoping to have a second child. However, many of these women are in their 40s and 50s, which puts both the child and mother at increased risk during pregnancy and childbirth.

What are the risks?

What are the risks? (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

What are the risks? (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Women over age 40 are more than twice as likely to suffer a stillbirth, while the risk of miscarriage is greater than the chance of a live birth. According to China’s National  Health and Family Planning Commission, the national maternal mortality rate is 18.3 deaths out of 100,000 for the first half of 2016. This represents a 30.6 percent increase compared to the same period in 2015.

There are additional risks to the mother. Women aged over 30 are more than twice as likely to suffer from life-threatening high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia) during pregnancy than those under 30 (5 percent compared with 2 percent).

Increasing maternal age also increases the chance of dying during the pregnancy, or during childbirth. Mothers in their 40s and 50s are also between three and six times more likely to die in the six weeks following the birth of the baby than their younger counterparts from complications associated with the pregnancy, such as bleeding and clots.

A personal decision that requires well-laid guidelines

The decision to have a second child when the mother is over 40 is a very personal one that an increasing number of couples are making today in China. And although pregnancy is possible in postmenopausal woman with hormone support, the incidence of complications remains very high.

This new situation raises the need for developing well-laid guidelines for performing IVF in elder age group women in China. Furthermore, counseling the couple regarding the pros and cons of  pregnancy after age 40 will help them weigh the risks against the benefits.

Translated by Jean Chen and edited by Kathy McWillliams.

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