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Last Updated: Friday, 17 December 2004, 17:51 GMT
The new, late baby boomers
By Clare Babbidge
BBC News

Woman with a child
The average age of a pregnant woman is now 29.4 years

Motherhood is still regarded by many women as one of life's greatest joys - so why are many leaving it until later, perhaps taking a chance on their fertility?

A change in attitude towards age, more choices, and greater confidence to delay the decision appear to be the main reasons offered by both mothers and various commentators.

The trend for older motherhood - shown in the latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics - has been publicly embraced by a number of high-profile figures.

The prime minister's wife Cherie Blair was 45 when her youngest son Leo was born in 2000.

Actress Susan Sarandon also gave birth at 45, while other celebrities falling into the "older mother" category have included Jane Seymour and Jerry Hall.

In fact, the number of women choosing to give birth later in life has increased so much it no longer seems that unusual.

But a generation ago, attitudes towards older mothers were very different.

I don't think it really makes any difference what age people are, it all comes down to personal choice now
Penny Wall, 31
Mother-to-be
Many women who gave birth in the 1970s, for example, say they were marked out as unusual.

Anecdotes include that told by one woman who said she was made to wear a label around her wrist in hospital indicating she was to give birth at 38.

Many women remember how they were overly-protected or even viewed with disdain and described as "elderly" or "geriatric" mothers.

Consultant gynaecologist Dr Peter Bowen-Simpkins says these terms were not used by doctors, although about 20 years ago the term of "elderly primip" was used for a woman having her first baby over the age of 35.

Careers and commitment

Dr Bowen-Simpkins, spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said doctors no longer use any such term "as it gives the wrong message".

"It is not very nice to call people of 35 'elderly'," he said.

Having a baby in your 30s was now considered quite normal, he added. "The main thing is to eat healthily and to not be overweight."

Jane Seymour, Madonna, Cherie Blair
Jane Seymour, Madonna and Cherie Blair are among women who had babies in their 40s

However Dr Bowen-Simpkins said women should "ideally" have a baby before 35 "as it takes away the worry" about undergoing tests such as amniocentesis.

And he said women who wanted to have children should "definitely" try to conceive before the age of 40, as fertility decreased markedly after that.

Penny Wall, 31, of Leicester, is expecting her first child in the New Year, but says pregnancy is not currently on the agenda for many of her friends.

"They are just not really think of it, they are having a nice time and developing their careers and doing other things," she said.

"It is the right time for me, because I have strong feelings towards doing it."

She added that although a lot of her friends had partners, they were "taking advantage of different opportunities and spending their money in different ways, not being committed... because life will change so dramatically once you have a baby."

I think that age is not the sole thing to predetermine whether you can be a good mother or not
Jan Andersen
Older mother

Ms Wall believes a change in attitude towards age is one of the main reasons for the increase in older women becoming pregnant.

"I don't think it really makes any difference what age people are, it all comes down to personal choice now," she said.

This view is shared by Jan Andersen, 45, who had three children in her 20s and a baby girl at 40 with a new partner.

She said the latter experience had been easier - and that her five-year-old daughter Lauren helps to keep her young.

'Wiser'

"I just feel I was a lot more stable, emotionally and financially when I was older, " she said.

"I think you learn a great more about yourself as you get older and wiser.

"I feel I am a far better mother this time around than I was as a 22 year old, when I had never really even held a baby before.

"I think that age is not the sole thing to predetermine whether you can be a good mother or not".

Ms Andersen, who lives in Swindon, has set up a website for people who become parents over the age of 40.

The site, called Mothers over 40, aims to offer support as well as counter "horror stories" about later pregnancies and declining fertility.

"I think when you are older you know what you want from life and pregnancy is an informed decision," she said.




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