NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 14, 2007

High-risk pregnancies are on the rise in the United States and may be more common now than at any other time since modern obstetric care became available, according to the Associated Press.

Several factors have contributed to this, including:

  • Older mothers giving birth -- in 2005, there were more than 104,000 births in the United States to women ages 40 through 44, and over 6,500 to women 45 and older, raising the risk of birth defects.
  • Chronic health problems such as obesity -- among women ages 18 to 44 obesity rose from under 9 percent in 1990 to almost 22 percent in 2005.
  • The growth of multiple births, often the result of infertility treatment -- in 2004, they made up more than 3 percent of all live births, up from about 2 percent in 1980; such babies are more likely to be born prematurely and to have health problems.

Other factors include:

  • Better medical care - this has resulted in more cancer survivors, an increased number of women surviving congenital heart defects and modern AIDS drugs that are effective at protecting babies from the virus' spread from the mother. 
  • Increased use of a wide variety of drugs -- nearly 40 percent of mothers took a drug whose safety in pregnancy is not established, and nearly 5 percent took a drug potentially risky to the fetus.

But in this otherwise troubling trend there is also some good news.  A small but growing number of women are successfully having children despite life-threatening conditions that once made a safe pregnancy almost inconceivable.

Source: Editorial, "High-Risk Pregnancies Rise in the U.S.," Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2007.


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