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Are you a Kerry or a Cherie? What is the perfect age for motherhood? Reporter KATE HODAL finds out.

Byline: KATE HODAL

INSPIRATION - Halle Berry

IDEA Denning

WHEN it comes to motherhood, doctors and scientists agree there's no "perfect time".

Being mentally capable, physically supple and financially stable are all touted as general "requirements", but get pregnant under the age of 20 and you're still considered a baby yourself; do it over 40 and you're over the hill.

Until recently, women over 30 were considered "elderly primagravida" - first-timers so old that they generally required Caesarean sections and extra to have a baby has proved an illusion, as advances in women's rights and education, combined with the Pill, infertility drugs, IVF and egg and embryo freezing have all colluded to make giving birth later in life more possible - and popular - than ever before.

In fact, the UK is home to one of the world's oldest mums, Patricia Rashbrook, who gave birth after IVF aged 62.

There are more first-time mums now aged 30 to 34 than aged 25 to 29, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), as well as 50% more mothers aged 40 to 44 having babies than just 10 years ago. Just because you can give birth later in life doesn't mean you should, says GP Dr Wendy Denning.

"Biologically, the best age to have a baby is between 20 and 25, because that's when you're at your healthiest and most supple," she explained.

"But societally, we've been told we can have it all - career first and babies later - so more and more women are postponing pregnancy to pursue their professional future. The truth is that the longer you wait, the more you blow your chances - and the more heartbreak you'll feel down the line."

TIMING'S

E V E RY T H I N G Women inspired by Nicole Kidman, who gave birth to Sunday Rose at 41, or Halle Berry, also 41 when she produced Nahla, know it's not impossible to give birth later, just a bit more difficult.

Older tissues mean a greater risk of spontaneous bleeding, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy (when the baby develops outside the womb), thyroid and high blood pressure problems as well as diabetes.

Dr Denning said: "At 40, your eggs have been around longer, so they've been more exposed to more toxins and potential things to injure them."

Women over 35 have the highest rates of stillbirths and deaths in the first week of life, according to the ONS, as the risk of chromosomal abnormalities in the baby increases with the age of the mother.

The chance of having a baby with Down's syndrome is one in 1,500 for women of 20, one in 900 for women who are 30 and one in 100 for women who are 40, according to the Down's Syndrome Association.

Other chromosomal disabilities, such as Patau's syndrome or Edwards syndrome, are also higher in older mums.

Despite the higher risk of ailments, some suggest over 35 is the perfect age to give birth because it often resonates with financial and emotional stability. "Older mothers often feel more settled and more ready in themselves to have a baby, possibly due to already having had career and leisure opportunities," said Lindsey Harris, who started www.mothers35plus.com for older mums.

"And they're more likely than their younger counterparts to want to make the necessary sacrifices that having a baby inevitably brings."

Perhaps all that positivity rubs off on the embryo, as research has shown that the children of older mothers tend to do better at school and that the mums are far less likely to suffer ante and post-natal depression than younger counterparts.

And oddly, research from University College London found, older women tend to produce left-handed children.

IS YOUNGER

BETTER? Younger mums may feel they have a body that can withstand more playtime and duress and bounce back easily, but being younger isn't all it's cut out to be, says the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' Peter BowenSimpkins.

"Young mothers, such as those under 20, because they're not yet fully grown biologically, are more likely to have interventions at childbirth, because their pelvis may not be fully mature and therefore harder to get a baby out," he said.

"They also tend to have a higher incidence of high blood pressure, as do older mothers over 40, and higher rates of depression - because they find giving birth and raising a child more difficult to cope with."

While online services such as MumsNet (www.mumsnet.com) can be a godsend for young parents needing advice, most young mums find themselves tired, stressed and helpless, said Dr Denning, making childbirth and child rearing far more unpleasant than it should be.

"Many older mums can afford childcare, which is one of the benefits of holding off on a pregnancy. "But most young mums don't have that luxury, and as a result can get frazzled or depressed far more easily."

Wendy thinks there age for

While young mums don't usually need help getting pregnant the way that older mums can, research from Cardiff University last year found the children of young mums are more likely to have emotional problems and a lower-than-average IQ.

And, says the ONS, babies born to teenage mums are more likely to die before their first month of life, with women under 20 having a significantly higher rate of neonatal death.

"The reality is that the best time to have a baby is probably around 30, when you're relatively young, strong, fit and healthy," said Dr Denning.

"But at whatever age you have your baby, you want to be eating well, exercising and looking after yourself. And ultimately, you should have fun - this is one of the best times of your life, so you should enjoy it."

YOUNG v OLD Ex-Sugababe Mutya Buena was mum to Tahlia-Maya at 19. Kerry Katona gave birth at 20 to Molly Marie.

Charlotte Church was 2 when she had her first, Ruby. Joanna Lumley was also 21 when she gave birth to James. Mariella Frostrup produced Molly Mae and Danny at 41 and 43.

Rachida Dati, Nicolas Sarkozy's former Minister of Justice, had a daughter at 43 and returned to work five days later. Emma Thompson had her only child Gaia (after IVF) at 40. Cherie Blair had her fourth, Leo, at 45.

was 41 when she gave birth to Nahla.

CHOICE - The perpetual debate on the best age to give birth is affected by medical advances.

CAPTION(S):

IVF AIDED - Dr Patricia Rashbrook, of East Sussex, gave birth at 62. IDEA - Dr Wendy Denning thinks there is an ideal age for motherhood. YOUTHFUL - Nicole Kidman was 41 when Sunday Rose came along. LATE ADDITION - Cherie Blair with youngest son Leo outside 10 Downing Street. HAPPY - Emma Thompson, then 40, with Greg Wise. STAR MUM - Sugababe Mutya Buena gave birth at 19. TWICE - Mariella Frostrup had two children in her 40s.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 20, 2009
Words:1142
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