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Older women make grand mothers, say researchers

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Wednesday, April 16, 2008 | 0 comments

LONDON - Age is no bar to being a good mother and there is no reason, from the child's point of view, to stop pensioners becoming parents, researchers say.

Women in their 50's and 60's who conceive after fertility treatment are just as capable of being good parents as their sisters in their 30's and 40's.

The research will bring hope to thousands of women who have delayed parenthood and seek help late in life to have a family. Even though they run greater risks of complications during pregnancy and birth, once their children are born they are just as good at raising them.

The finding will also boost research into egg freezing, which could allow career women in their 20s to store their eggs for use in their 40's or 50's or even later. If egg freezing becomes a practical possibility for the average woman, it could fuel a boom in demand for fertility treatment from 40 and 50-year-olds.

Researchers from the University of Southern California studied the mental and physical health of 150 women, a third of whom had become parents in their 50s after in-vitro fertilisation with donor eggs. They found no significant difference in the health or stress levels of the older women that was likely to reduce their parenting capacity compared with younger groups in their 40s and 30s.

All the women gave birth between 1992 and 2004 at a single Los Angeles hospital and were sent questionnaires of which half were returned. On mental functioning, the over-50s were the only group who scored significantly higher than the national average.

The finding goes some way to answering critics of the trend to later motherhood who accuse women seeking fertility treatment in their 50's and 60's of being selfish and ignoring the welfare of their children.

But the study was criticised by a British specialist who said it followed women with children up to the age of 12 and did not show how older mothers would cope in their 60's and 70's when their children reached the more challenging teenage years.

Patricia Rashbrook, from Lewes, who became Britain's oldest mother at the age of 62 last July, defended herself against charges that she would be 80 before her child left school by saying it was the "quality of parenting that matters, not age".

The study from the University of Southern California supports her case.

Anne Steiner, who led the research, said: "The conclusion from this study, though it is limited and of small size, is that if we look from the perspective of stress and physical and mental functioning, it doesn't seem we can restrict parenting based on these reasons."

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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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