Delayed Motherhood is Risky, Doctors Warn

By Patrick B. Craine

June 22, 2009 ( - The U.K. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have conducted a study group on reproductive aging. The college released a statement on June 15th on the results, warning about the risks associated with delaying maternity.

Women are waiting longer to begin having children, they say, citing statistics from a number of Western countries, Australia, and New Zealand. However, the college points out that at the same time women are not aware of the risks.

The college is calling for more public discussion of this issue. "There is an urgent need for better public information on the issues surrounding later maternity," the college said.  "Women should be supported, rather than constrained, in their life choices. However, both women and society need to be aware of the possible problems that older mothers may encounter."

The potential for pregnancy complications rises as a woman ages, but the major risk they emphasized was the woman's loss of fertility. "Biologically, the optimal period for childbearing is between 20 - 35 years of age," they say. Within that period, most women will get pregnant if they choose. But, after 35 it gets much harder to conceive and the possibility of a miscarriage rises.

It would seem that many women are not aware of this difficulty, however. According to a 2006 national survey of 2,400 Australians by the Fertility Society of Australia (FSA), 51% of childless women aged 30 to 49 believed they could still conceive without difficulty if they chose.

According to The Brisbane Times, the main author of RCOG's report, Mandish Dhanjal, pointed to the example of certain older celebrity mothers, such as Nicole Kidman (41), Madonna (43), and Holly Hunter (47), as contributing to women's mistaken impression about the ease of bearing children at an older age.

Dr. Michael Chapman of FSA said that it is "frustrating because one thing that is not revealed in magazine articles is many of these celebrities are not using their own eggs, but a donor egg."

According to the RCOG statement, beyond the optimal period of 20 - 35, women may opt for IVF, but as a woman ages the success rate drops significantly. For a woman under 35, they say, the live birth rate with IVF is 31%, but for women over 42 the rate drops below 5%.

Ted Weaver, President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, is also concerned about the lack of knowledge around delayed motherhood, reports The Brisbane Times. "The lack of health literacy in women of reproductive age is a serious issue for this country," he said.

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