Older mothers

Mum After 35

Are you an older mum?

This is a topic that is very close to my heart, as I know it is for many of you. How do I know this? Well I’m Lauraine and I help to look after the Huggies Forum and have had the wonderful opportunity of “meeting” so many of you through the posts on the forums. Well, here is your chance to find out a little about me.

An older mum, hhmm, I certainly never thought of myself as “older” until I rang to book in for my 12 week ultrasound and after a few preliminary questions the receptionist said “aren’t you going to have a CVS?” as if it were just a matter of course and everyone has one. Naturally, I asked if I should be and her response was “Well you are older, you are in the higher risk category because of your age”.

So there you have it, I’m “older”. I’m 37 and will be 38 by the time my baby arrives and yes this does put me into a higher risk category of having a baby with genetic problems. I think I knew this but because I’ve had 2 healthy children I really didn’t think it was something that I needed to consider, but apparently it is. So I’ve done some research and thought it would be useful information for any woman considering having a baby after the age of 35.

Recent figures show that “older mothers” (35-39 years) are on the increase with one in ten births to women over 35^. In fact, the number of women having children during this period of their lives has doubled in the last 20 years*. The same applies for “really old mums” (40+). There is a general trend occurring in Australia towards having our babies later in our lives with the average age of first time mums being 30-31years. The most prolific childbearing age group is the 30-34 year women. I’ve been in each of these brackets while being pregnant having my first child bang on average, the second at 33 years and now pregnant at 37.

In general, our society has changed significantly in the last 20-30 years with women taking a very different role in their relationships, the workplace, government, education and of course in the home. Life expectancy has increased and where 40 used to be considered middle aged and a time when you had your mid-life crisis, it is now thought of as the prime of your life. Here are a few, although definitely not exhaustive, reasons why we are waiting until later to start our families.

  • We seem to be waiting longer to meet and commit to our life partner.
  • More and more women are engaging in tertiary education and then wanting to use their qualifications in the work force.
  • We are more likely to have opportunities at work and have career aspirations.
  • We feel the need to be financially secure before taking the leap into parenthood, and that is harder said than done in our current economic environment.
  • More women are opting to set and achieve our own personal goals before we take the step of becoming a mum.

For those of us that have delayed entering motherhood we have to be aware that our fertility reduces with our passing years. Our peak fertility is during our late teens through to our mid 20’s, with fertility dropping rapidly after 35 years and another sharp decline after the age of 37. This means that your likelihood of falling pregnant after 35 is quite reduced (although definitely not impossible). It’s no surprise that the 35 year + age group are the biggest users of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART).

It’s really quite cruel after being brought up in fear that if you had sex while you were “young” that you would fall pregnant only to find out that now you’re ready, it’s really not as easy as it was made out to be. Not only is it harder to fall pregnant but once you are pregnant there are a number of increased risks for mums over 35.

These increased risks include a greater chance of:

  • Miscarriage
  • Genetic problems for your baby
  • Maternal High Blood pressure
  • Gestational Diabetes
  • Placental problems
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature delivery
  • A caesarean delivery.

Of course, the advances made in recent times to the medical technology and tests allow older mothers to have much safer pregnancies than in the past. In fact the higher level of routine testing for genetic problems in “older mothers” is probably the reason why around 80% of all Down Syndrome births are to mothers who are under 35 years of age instead of the higher risk group (35+).

One of the anomalies of being an “older” mum is that although it is harder for you to fall pregnant at all, there is a greater chance of you naturally conceiving twins between the ages of 35 and 39 years. These twins are usually created from 2 eggs being released and then fertilised by 2 separate sperm. An instant family!

So, if there are all these hurdles and risks to be overcome why are more and more women waiting until later to have their babies? Does the media play a role in our decision making? Possibly. The media certainly doesn’t report that celebrities have suffered their second miscarriage or that they have suffered pregnancy complications related to their age. We only see the stars that have had the perfect pregnancy, perfect baby and have returned to their fabulous pre-pregnancy shape within days of giving birth all to the acclaim of “at the age of 39”. Does this fill us with a false hope of being able to achieve the same thing? Here are a few of the celebrity older mothers:

  • Geena Davis – First child at 46
  • Madonna – First child at 38
  • Melanie Griffith – Second child at 39
  • Sarah Jessica Parker – First child at 37
  • Bette Midler – First child at 41
  • Julia Roberts – Twins at 37
  • Elle Macpherson – Second child at 41
  • Courtney Cox – First child at 40
  • Susan Sarandon – Third child at 45

Certainly, there is the option of using ART in your quest for a baby, but this is definitely not the answer for everyone This can take you on a rollercoaster ride all of its own and really deserves to be spoken about in another article.

So what are the main differences faced by older mums during our pregnancy:

  • We’re more likely to be faced with making a decision about the continuation of our pregnancy based on information gained from routine testing for pregnant women 35 plus.
  • We’re usually highly motivated to become parents, especially if this is a first child and not likely to leave it to chance.
  • We’re more likely to be undergoing some form of assisted reproduction.
  • We might not bounce back as well as we would when we were younger. I always think this is similar to when I used to party all of Friday night and then back up to do it again on Saturday night, those days are long gone.
  • It may possibly cause the end of, or at least stall, your career.
  • The reality is you’ll be an older mum when your child starts and finishes school.
  • Family support might be less as Grandparents may not be able to offer the same physical support as they are also older in turn.
  • Your “freedom” will not return until much later in your life.

Benefits of being an older mother:

  • You’ll be more likely to afford babysitting so that you can take a well earned break.
  • Financially you’ve probably saved enough money to take some time away from the workforce.
  • Again, because you may be more financially secure you won’t have to compromise on baby’s equipment.
  • You will have had the opportunity to travel free of children and really enjoy it and maybe you won’t miss it for a while (who are we kidding!).
  • You will have already achieved a number of your personal goals.
  • With age comes a greater confidence in oneself, this can still be shaken once you have a baby, but it will help you to be proactive as a parent.
  • You are older and (hopefully) wiser and have broadened your knowledge, making you a wiser teacher to your child
  • You’ll probably be having babies at the same time as your friends and develop a wonderful support network.
  • Your Patience may be greater as you’ve had longer to learn self control.
  • You can learn from the mistakes and successes of others that you have seen do it all before you.
  • If the baby has been long awaited for – you will really appreciate it.
  • Friends and family have done a lot of investigating that you can draw on i.e. looked at child care in your area so you just check out the short list.

Our fertility, or lack of it, is something we fail to talk about with our friends for fear of upsetting each other. And it does hurt when someone flippantly asks “Are you going to have a baby?”. My standard answer has always been “I’d love to”, and it’s pretty hard to say those words after another failed attempt, during the all consuming time when you’re on the path of IVF and particularly hard after suffering another miscarriage. These are the realities of my journey to have a family and here I am with all of my fingers, toes and legs crossed hoping that in a few months time I’ll be holding the next member of our family in my arms.

To all the “older” mums, good luck and good health on your journey towards motherhood. Being a mum is one of the most rewarding roles possible, no matter what your age is.

Birth announcement

I’m very pleased to let you know that our baby girl arrived into the world at a hefty 9pound 12 ounces, and yes it hurt.
I must say there is nothing better than to see your older children in awe of their new baby sister.

^Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Perinatal statistics.

*Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Further Reading

The following books are available through our Huggies Book Club:

  • Older Mothers: Conception, Pregnancy and Birth After 35
    Julia Beeryman, Karen Thorpe; Kate Windridge
  • Essential Over 35 Pregnancy
    Ellen Rose Lavin; Samuel H Wood
  • Not Too Late: Having a Baby After 35
    Gill Thorn

For more information see Motherhood or Parenting .