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The risks - and rewards - when motherhood begins at 40

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Wednesday, January 09, 2008 | 0 comments

GEENA DAVIS did it. So did Emma Thompson and Susan Sarandon. Now, Nicole Kidman is joining the swelling ranks of women who have their first baby after the age of 40.

Only a century ago the average life expectancy for women was about 50, so a 35-year-old would have been an ageing matriarch with grandchildren in tow. But now one in seven babies in Australia is born to a woman older than that as thousands hit the snooze button on parenting.

Maturity can bring a satisfying career, a healthy bank balance and a well-rounded sense of self, but women who become pregnant later in life also have a much greater risk of miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and stillbirths.

Older women are also more likely to have induced labour, epidural anaesthesia, forceps or vacuum deliveries, and caesarean sections. They have a one in 100 chance of having a child with chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome.

A fertility specialist with IVF Australia, Michael Chapman, said yesterday that women aged 40 to 45 had a one in four chance of miscarrying. "Age and the miscarriage rate are linked because the older a woman gets, the older her eggs get. They become more fragile with age and have abnormalities, which can lead to miscarriage or disorders such as Down syndrome."

He said pregnant women in their 30s and 40s had a greater risk of hypertension and gestational diabetes, which often required intervention during labour. One study showed that first-time mothers older than 40 were 14 times more likely to have a caesarean than those under 30.

"Most obstetricians encourage older women to have a caesarean section because their muscles are weaker and their tissues are less elastic," Dr Chapman said.

But the secretary of the NSW Midwives Association, Hannah Dahlen, said yesterday, women should not be deterred.

"Older mothers are more likely to be educated and financially secure, more settled in themselves and more prepared to make the sacrifices required to be a mother," she said. "They are better able to negotiate care for their child, their children often do better in school, and it has also been shown in some studies that women who have babies in their 40's live longer."


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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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