Being an older mother

Why it’s not all bad being an older mother.

By Donna Fleming

Don’t put off having kids for too long – that’s the message constantly being drummed into us these days.

Not only can your age have a huge impact on your ability to conceive, but if you do manage to get pregnant in your late thirties or forties, there are more things that can go wrong and you could be putting your child’s health at risk.

Or so we’ve been told.

Yes, it’s true that fertility does decline rather rapidly after the age of 35 and that there are greater risks associated with being pregnant and giving birth. These include increased chances of:
• Miscarriage and premature birth

• Pregnancy complications due to conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, which are more common the older you are

• Having a baby with a genetic anomaly like Down’s syndrome

But the good news is babies born to older mums aren’t likely to be less healthy later in life than those whose mums gave birth in their twenties or early thirties, according to new research. In fact, if you’re over 35 when you have a child, your baby may be less prone to health problems than those born to mums aged under 24.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, who studied 18,000 babies and their mums, say it is not the age of the mother that affects the health of their grown-up kids, but her education and the number of years she spends with her child.

The better educated a mum is, the more healthy their child tends to be – possibly because they have a better understanding of nutrition and other factors involved in good health, and because they’re more aware of early signs of health problems, so they can seek help sooner rather than later.

Researchers also uncovered that how many years a mother spends with her child can affect a baby’s wellbeing, because of the psychological effects from losing your mum early.

While being under 30 dramatically increases your chance of being able to conceive, the earlier in life you have children, the more likely it is that those kids will have a range of health issues. These include a higher number of undiagnosed conditions, dying earlier and being obese as adults.

Investigations also showed that children born to mothers aged between 20 and 24 suffer from five percent more diseases than those whose mums were between 25 and 34 when they had them. And children born to mothers aged 14 to 19 are 15% more likely to have illnesses later in life.

Meanwhile, a British study has come to the conclusion that not only are babies born to mums over 40 healthier than those whose mums are younger, they can also be more intelligent.

Researchers from the UK’s Institute of Child Health, University College London and Birkbeck College in London compared 1100 children born to 40-plus mums with 38,000 kids born to younger women.
They found the offspring of older women:
• Have fewer accidents

• Are less likely to need hospital care
• Have a broader vocabulary
• Receive higher scores in IQ tests

One of the researchers, Dr Alastair Sutcliffe, said the children of older women were perhaps less likely to have accidents because their mums were less inclined to let them take risks. The fact they were not as able to run after their kids might make a difference, but they were also probably more adept at spotting and avoiding potentially risky situations in the first place.

Some research shows children with older mums have greater academic success than other kids. Dr Sutcliffe says there is a link between older mums and “better outcomes”. “Older mothers appear to have good parenting skills, they may be less impulsive, more calm and have more life experience... The research suggests that when the enormous difficulties of pregnancy and birth are over, they can make better mothers.”

Researchers have found that kids with older mums have fewer accidents and are less likely to need hospital care.

• Emma Thompson had her first child, Gaia, at 40
• Susan Sarandon was 46 when she had her son Miles
• Cherie Blair had her fourth child, Leo, at 45
• Halle Berry was 41 when she had her daughter Nahla
• Nicole Kidman had her daughter Sunday Rose at 41
• Holly Hunter had her first babies, twin boys, at 47

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