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Why we must gear up to help new mums over 40; Dear Miriam.


As the number of women giving birth over the age of 40 keeps rising, it's time experts stopped bleating about risks and started facing facts.

Last year nearly 27,000 babies were born to older mums - triple the figure of 20 years ago, according to new figures from the Office of National Statistics.

Don't get me wrong - I'm very keen that women who are considering having babies later know how age affects both fertility and pregnancy.

But once they've weighed up the pros and cons, it's their right to make that decision. Of course, I'm talking here about women who are pre-menopausal - not extremists who seek out IVF when they're pushing pension age!

After Italy, the UK has the second-highest birth rate in Europe for older mums.

And the trend towards women giving birth later will remain strong with more career and life opportunities.

That's why it's crucial to find solutions.

Extra care

I was 35 when I had my first baby and in those days it was such a rarity that my medical notes said "senile first pregnancy". As a result I was monitored very carefully throughout, with extra checks on my blood pressure, urine and lots of other things.

Luckily, there were no complications and I sailed through that pregnancy, repeating the process again at the even more senile age of 37.

The point I'm making is that, if older mums-to-be undergo regular checks, the extra risks due to age can be minimised and serious conditions like pre-eclampsia dealt with early, preventing potentially fatal complications.

I feel that the health care systems should automatically provide extra care for older mums, involving extra antenatal clinics and closer monitoring of older mums-to-be.

The challenge is that for this to happen we'd need more midwives, of which there's already a shortage, and more maternity units, which tend to be closing rather than opening.

Is there a perfect time?

While nature deems 15 to 17 to be the ideal time to get pregnant and give birth - this is when a girl is strong, fertile, resilient and her tissues are elastic so they stretch easily and spring back into place - it's far from ideal in every other way.

Studies show that teen mums are three times more likely to suffer from postnatal depression, are more likely to live in poverty and are less likely to go on to higher education and enjoy the job prospects and opportunities that go with this.

Their babies have a 60% higher death rate and are more likely to have a low birth weight, which is associated with a long list of health risks.

Older mums are more likely to be emotionally capable, in a stable relationship, savvy about health matters and financially better off.

On the other hand, leave it till everything's just right and you risk missing the boat.

Key factors to consider when it's make-your-mind-up time...

Here's what to weigh up if you're trying to decide the best age to have a family.


A woman's fertility slowly starts to reduce in her late 20s but after 35 it really gets a move on. Around a third of women aged 35 to 39, and about half those over 40, have fertility problems.


Around 10% of pregnancies among women in their 20s end in miscarriage compared with 35% in women aged 40 to 44.

There's increased risk of complications such as pregnancy-induced diabetes, premature birth, still birth, pre-eclampsia and birth difficulties.

Risk of having a baby with a genetic abnormality like Down's syndrome rises from one in 1,250 at 25 to one in 100 at 40.


Most people feel that they could do with a bit of extra money before having kids but if your finances are really rocky and you have big debts and an unsteady income, then it's a bad idea.


If it's in trouble don't make the mistake so many people do of assuming that a baby is a band aid. The stress of lifestyle changes and sleep deprivation will swiftly end a troubled relationship.

There are some great single parents but studies show that kids with two parents in a loving relationship fare far better in all areas than kids with single parents or battling parents.


There's never a perfect time to have a baby. You've got the right man then you want a bigger flat, a better car, a better job... The goalposts change all the time.

Until I was 35, I felt far too busy enjoying my career and social life to have a baby and I only stopped taking the Pill when I did because my husband was so keen to start a family.

But if I'd known what I know now, I'd probably have thrown my Pill packet away earlier rather than risk leaving it too late. Juggling a full-time job with a baby was hard work but, like many women, I found a way to manage.

Above all, don't count on IVF. Access is limited and not available to women over 39. If you go private, it costs roughly EUR4,000 to EUR8,000 each attempt. The chance of success for each cycle reduces with the woman's age. For a woman aged 41 to 42, it's around one in 11 each time.

The crucial questions are: How much do you want a baby? How will you feel if it doesn't happen? What life changes are you willing to make to accommodate it? Answer these and you've made your decision.
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 27, 2010
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