The Reality (And Risks) Of Having Babies After 50, According To Experts

As Victoria Coren-Mitchell welcomes her second child at the age of 51, experts discuss the pros and cons of having kids later in life.
Victoria Coren-Mitchell
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Victoria Coren-Mitchell

Victoria Coren-Mitchell, 51, recently shared the news that she and her husband David Mitchell, 49, had quietly welcomed their second child.

Coren-Mitchell joins a host of celebrities having children later in life, from Janet Jackson, who had her son at 50 to Naomi Campbell, who had her first child at 50, before welcoming another baby at 53.

Pregnancy in later life has historically been a rarity in Britain. According to reports by The Sunday Times, in 2001, “hardly more than one” baby was born to a woman over the age of 50 a week. Two decades on, this figure has increased “fivefold”.

So, what does it tell us about later-in-life pregnancies, the stigma surrounding older mothers and the risks associated with so-called “geriatric” pregnancies?

Risks associated with later-in-life pregnancies

Earlier this year, scientists suggested the “safest” age to have a child is between 23 and 32.

This is because the risk of developing non-chromosomal abnormalities increased by 20% for births under the age of 22, and by 15% above the age of 32, compared to the age of 23-to-32-year-olds.

Women over the age of 35 also have a heightened risk factor for adverse maternal and perinatal outcomes, according to the International Journal of Women’s Health.

Their research indicates that, despite more people becoming pregnant later in life, risks of spontaneous miscarriage, preterm labour, gestational diabetes mellitus, pre-eclampsia, stillbirth, chromosomal abnormalities and caesarean delivery increased.

There are also higher chances of adverse foetal outcomes, from infants who are small for their gestational age and intrauterine growth restrictions to admission to neonatal intensive care units.

But, as the charity Tommy’s stresses, most women will still have healthy pregnancies. “Try not to worry too much about your age,” the charity advises mothers. “Just concentrate on having a healthy pregnancy and bonding with your baby. If you have any worries or concerns, it might be helpful to talk to your GP or midwife.”

Older mothers and social stigma

While some have voiced the opinion that having children later in life can be selfish, the increase in cost of living has forced many women to consider parenthood later down the line or not at all.

Over half of all mothers (52%) have debts outside their mortgage and student loan, with almost one in 10 mums owing more than £20,000, according to figures shared with HuffPost UK. And, according to research commissioned by Forbes Advisor, 24% of people labelled ‘Dual Income, No Kids’ – or DINKs – are choosing not to have children due to the impact it would have on their finances.

While a separate survey by private fertility clinic ReproMed found almost half (47%) of respondents are delaying having children for economic reasons.

A recent research paper published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies found significant social stigma present amongst medical professionals, too. It concluded that: “Health professionals need to be mindful of the fact that women delay childbearing for various reasons.”

Is it easy to conceive a baby over 50?

While there has been an increase in the number of mothers giving birth after turning 45, having a baby at this age isn’t always easy.

For one, women tend to begin menopause between the ages of 45-50, after which conception becomes impossible. However, pregnancy is still possible during perimenopause — and even during menopause. This is why many experts advise the use of contraception during this time.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Professor Geeta Nargund, the medical director of Create Fertility, said: “Stories of women having children in their forties and fifties may seem like empowering examples of reproductive choice, but women must be alive to the reality that their fertility is affected by their biological clock.”

She continued: “Before trying to conceive, women must also understand there are increased risks of pregnancy complications when having a baby at an older age.”

According to My Menopause Centre, if you’re aged 45-50, the chances of natural conception are more like 10%, and if you’re over 50, the percentage drops more.

Nargund explained that as women get older, both the quantity and quality of their eggs decline, which is why those conceiving later in life may need donor eggs or eggs they’ve frozen if they want to have children.

So, while some may want to wait until their middle age to have children, it’s not always likely that it will happen without some intervention. In fact, the chances are so slim that GlobMed, a private healthcare provider, says the odds of getting pregnant over 50 without help are just one in 100.

In the UK, IVF is only available for free to women under the age of 42 who do not have previous children (their partners must also not have children), amongst other things. So, intervention could cost thousands of pounds.

The reality of parenting over 50

According to research, older mothers are more adept at boundary-setting with their children — which means that, generally, they are less likely to shout or punish them harshly. This leads to fewer behavioural problems for the children in later life.

Older parents tend to feel less stressed and more confident too, compared to younger parents, and are more likely to be emotionally and financially ready for kids.

In short, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that children who have older parents tend to have good life outcomes.

One Swedish study found that putting off kids in favour of career progression up to and beyond the age of 40 “is associated with positive long-term outcomes for children”.

So, while there are some important factors to think about risk-wise, there are a lot of positives to parenting over 50, too.

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