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Page last updated at 12:09 GMT, Monday, 11 August 2008 13:09 UK

Right time for a baby?

Picture of a baby holding its mother's hand
In our film and on these pages you can find out what the BBC has learnt about fertility rates in UK and Europe.

But what are your own experiences of the right time to have a baby? We'd like to build up a picture on the website from your stories.

The number of women giving birth in their forties has doubled in ten years.

But as women leave it later to have children their chances drop dramatically and at least one in five will not have any at all.

A leading fertility experts says women who put it off are taking a gamble.

Professor Bill Ledger tells Panorama:

"What a lot of people don't realise is quite how big the difference is between 35 and 40 when most women will find it very difficult to conceive at all."

Kate Silverton

BBC presenter Kate Silverton is 35 and had an ovary removed several years ago. She is among thousands of women in the UK facing one of the biggest dilemmas of their lives which is if or when to have children.

She investigates for Panorama if the struggle to establish career and financial security and to find the right partner before starting a family has become too difficult?

Kate spent the last month in Sheffield at the city's maternity hospital and assisted conception unit. She met women who've given birth, are about to give birth or are desperate to conceive.

Map of Europe
Jonathan Grant carries out research into fertility rates across Europe for a social policy advisor called RAND. He has said: "We're going to have a smaller workforce supporting that larger ageing population. The consequences of that are challenging and in certain countries in Europe you could probably term it a crisis."

Among them is Cheryl, 36, who originally wanted to have six children but having postponed motherhood is only now pregnant with her first child.

Despite a rare liver condition she is determined to carry on with the pregnancy to try to fulfil her desire to have at least one baby.

Helen, 38, ran her own marketing consultancy and was a self-confessed hedonist. So what's caused her to give it all up and have two children in the last three years?

Linda, 45, is an actress who after a successful career decided to start a family at 40. Five years on, after IVF and other medical treatment she is still childless but hopeful.

Falling birth rates are Europe-wide and if the EU population continues to decline the impact will be dramatic in political, social and economic terms.

But the UK government's only explicit population policy is to halve the rate of teenage pregnancies.

Ashleigh Thomas Epsley
Panorama meets Ashleigh Thomas Epsley who has her first baby at 18

Kate meets Ashleigh who fell pregnant at 17 and is about to give birth. She believes women should have their babies young and asks why she should be criticised when she is likely to be more hands on than many older working mums.

Starting a family is still considered a personal preference but when the majority of countries in the EU have below replacement fertility Panorama questions whether the government should be adopting more aggressive pro-natalist policies.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised by Panorama in Right Time for a Baby and would like to talk to someone in confidence for further information and support, please call the BBC Action Line on BBC Action Line 08000 155 327. Lines may be busy, so please remember that the Action Line is open seven days a week, from 0730 to 0000. All calls are free and confidential.

Panorama: Right Time For a Baby? was on BBC One on June 6 2006


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