Number of Nulliparous Women at an All-Time High

Women Without Children Face Health Risks

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Nulliparous is the medical term for a woman who has never given birth either by choice or for any other reason. This term also applies to women who have given birth to a stillborn or nonviable infant.

Many women in the United States are nulliparous and the number of women without children is at an all-time high. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey in 2014, 47.6 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 don't have children, which is the highest since the survey began in 1976.

Nulliparous women have an increased risk for some health conditions.

Increased Risk for Reproductive Cancers

For decades, the scientific community has known nulliparous women have an increased risk for cancers of the reproductive system, including ovarian and uterine cancers. The increased risk was thought to be attributable to the fact that mothers with biological children have less ovulatory cycles due to pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, the Center for Human Reproduction drew new conclusions based on the summary of the available information and found fewer ovulatory cycles are unlikely to be the cause and more research is necessary to discover the reason.

Increased Risk for Breast Cancer

Nulliparous women have a greater risk of breast cancer, too. Women who have children before the age of 20 have a lower lifetime risk of breast cancer compare to their nulliparous counterparts, but the young mothers have a higher risk for the first 15 years after their pregnancy.

Mothers with five full-term pregnancies are about 50 percent less likely than nulliparous women to develop breast cancer.

Breastfeeding, which nulliparous women don't have the chance to experience, also reduces your risk of breast cancer.

Older Women at Even Greater Risk

The increased risk of having a stillborn for older mothers is well known.

However, nulliparous women age 35 and older are at greater risk of having a stillborn baby than both younger women and mothers of a similar age, according to a study of 1.8 million pregnancies reported in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. The data also showed there is no increased age-related risk for highly educated mothers.

Pregnancy for nulliparous women after long-term IUD use

It may be more difficult for a nulliparous woman to become pregnant for the first time after long-term use of an IUD (intrauterine device), compare to using a barrier method, such as a diaphragm or condom. According to an analysis of data from 558 women published in the journal Family Planning Perspectives, only 28 percent of women who used an IUD for 6.5 years or more could get pregnant for the first time within the first 12 months after it was removed. This is in comparison to 45 percent for those using an IUD for less time.

Stages of labor are different for nulliparous women

The stages of labor have different norms for mothers and nulliparous women.

For first-time moms, the latent stage (when you have mild and infrequent contractions) is about 1.5 hours longer, the active labor stage is almost 2 hours longer and the second stage (the time between when your cervix dilates completely and your baby comes out) is about 50 minutes longer

Sources:

Gleicher, N. Reproductive Biomedicine Online: Why are reproductive cancers more common in nulliparous women? (2013).

Obstetrics & Gynecology: Older Nulliparous Women Have Higher Risk for Stillbirth (2015).

Family Planning Perspectives: A First Pregnancy May Be Difficult to Achieve After Long-Term Use of an IUD (2001).

Huffington Post: A Record Percentage of Women Don't Have Kids. Here's Why That Makes Sense (2015).

Steiner, et al. American Family Physician: Assessing Breast Cancer Risk in Women (2008).

University of Texas Health Science Center: Labor and Delivery

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