Having babies after 40
Now that it’s so common, is being an older mum still an issue?
The number of women over 40 giving birth in the UK has doubled in the last decade, from less than 13,000 in 1997 to more than 26,000 in 2010. The main reasons for the boom in older pregnancy are:
- With greater pressure to contribute to household expenses, women may be reluctant to leave their jobs;
- Advances in fertility medicine make it possible for women to achieve a pregnancy after the age of 40, when natural fertility has declined;
- Older motherhood has become more common, more socially acceptable and, therefore, more comfortable.
So, with more women than ever waiting longer to have children, is being an older Mum still an issue? You may have chosen to wait until 40 to start a family, waited until you met the right partner or you may have experienced delays because of infertility. As the trend suggests, however, age is not a deal breaker. Here are a few things you may want to consider:
The health ramifications of being an older mother are probably the most immediately felt, as it can be harder to conceive, create a slightly more risky pregnancy and be more difficult to bounce back from childbirth, in healing time, stamina and weight loss. Not to mention that British hospitals still tend to label anyone over 35 a “geriatric mother.” However, with excellent health advice, medical supervision and get-fit opportunities available, most 40+ women will find themselves well-covered. The most important steps you can take to protect yourself and your children are to be well-informed and take good care of yourself. Mindful Mum has a lot of helpful nutritional, health and fitness information available, so take a tour of the site to find what you need and feel free to suggest topics you would like to see covered.
The economic realities of older motherhood will depend, to some extent, on your preparation. If you have purposely waited longer to have children, you may benefit from career stability, financial security and a comfortable lifestyle. If, on the other hand, you spent a lot of money on fertility treatment or suddenly find yourself at a now-or-never juncture of your life, you may be concerned about how impending motherhood will affect your finances. The estimated cost of raising a child to age 21 in the UK is now approximately £200,000. Furthermore, if you become a mother after 40, you may have children living at home, or entering University, as you approach pensioner status. The realities of retirement may be very different from traditional expectations, as older parents may have to continue to work as they raise their children. Whichever camp you fall in, it may be worthwhile to consult a financial planner to assess your current and future financial needs, including life insurance and a Will.
Perhaps the most unpredictable impact of older motherhood is on your relationships. You may feel out of step with old friends who don’t have young children and isolated amongst the younger mothers at Baby Group. You may find yourself, at 40+, ten to twenty years older than some of the other mothers in your child’s first years at school, but you probably won’t be alone. Don’t take offence if others initially assume that you are already well-established with friends or that you have little in common. The relationships you form with their classmates’ parents will benefit you and your child, so make the extra effort and show your interest in joining them occasionally for coffee or at the park.
Allow some “settling time” for your existing relationships to accommodate your new life as a mother, while making space for some new friendships. Seek out other older mothers, either through a hospital group, an internet parenting site or at playgroup. These are the women who will be able to share a good laugh over such “older-Mum” discoveries as your first grey hair, smile-lines or hot flush before your child reaches Reception age! Finally, don’t neglect the relationship you have with your partner. While you may be staying in a lot more with a young child than you are accustomed, make time and space for child-free evenings.
Worried about how your age will affect your children? The two most important aspects of parenting at any age are love and the ability to care for your child’s health and welfare. For successful older parenting, add in attitude and energy.
Very young children will not be aware of your age, however, that will change as they grow up and begin to make comparisons between their parents and those of their friends. Your awareness of, and interest in, what is happening in their lives will make all the difference. They will benefit from your maturity and life experience. You will benefit from their new ideas, youthful exuberance and the unfolding of all life’s possibilities. It’s a win-win situation.
A final word: Manage your expectations and don’t worry about everyone else’s.
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Photography: Catherine Scott @Flickr