Page last updated at 16:00 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 17:00 UK

Concerns over older mother trend

By Branwen Jeffreys
Health correspondent, BBC News


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An urgent public debate on the trend for women to delay motherhood is needed, leading doctors say.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists will publish evidence on Monday about the increased medical risks of pregnancy for older mothers.

Doctors are also concerned many women still do not understand how rapidly fertility declines after the age of 35.

But other experts said progress in the health service meant the NHS could cope with the trend.

The college set up an expert group to look into the issue after the latest figures showed the number of older mothers has risen to record levels.

I myself don't think there is a huge problem here, if you actually look at the statistics, pregnancy has never been safer
Frank Furedi, from the University of Kent

The experts will point out that for a woman over the age of 42 the success rate of a live birth for each IVF cycle falls to 5%, whereas for a woman under 35 it is 31%.

Later maternal age may also have implications for health service as it deals with a growing number of women at higher risk of complications, the college will say.

While most pregnancies in the UK result in a healthy baby, the experts say a minority of older women face the risk of serious adverse effects such as developing diabetes in pregnancy.

Mandish Dhanjal, a consultant obstetrician who has pulled together the evidence on medical risks for the college, said the trend to older motherhood was very marked.

"If you look at older mothers over the age of 35 - in the mid 1980s about 8% of those women who got pregnant were over 40 whereas now that figure has more than doubled to 19%".

The risks for a woman in her 40s of medical complications are between two and five times higher than a woman in her 20s, although the absolute risks are still quite small.

Two of the most serious risks highlighted by the college are pre-eclampsia and diabetes.

There is also a concern among specialists that women's perception of motherhood may be overly influenced by celebrity older mothers.

Mr Dhanjal said: "Many young women will be reading magazines which focus on this. Unfortunately the mass media doesn't tend to report the complications".


But some commentators believe focusing on the medical risks does not take account of some of the profound social changes shaping women's lives, such as greater opportunities in the world of work and an expectation of financial independence.

Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, who writes on parenting, believes society has not caught up with the changing reality.

"I myself don't think there is a huge problem here, if you actually look at the statistics, pregnancy has never been safer.

"We have a very good health system that is able to minimise the risks for women having children at 35 or 36."

Mary Newburn, of the National Childbirth Trust, said while the parenting charity supported the efforts to make women aware of the medical risks, changes to working practices were also needed.

"We now need to look at how we can make it possible for women to have career breaks earlier on and to enable them to have children at a younger age.

"Likewise, the introduction of shared parental leave should lead to less pressure on women to reach a certain point in their career before having children. "

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