Sarah Redshaw, Managing Editor of BabyCentre, discusses the myths surrounding having a baby later in life.
Last month, Janet Jackson dominated the headlines with the announcement of her pregnancy at the age of nearly 50. The news received a mixed reaction, with some commentators describing it as shocking, whilst other media spokespeople came out in support of the star. However, Janet Jackson isn't the first and certainly won't be the last older woman to get pregnant. It's becoming increasingly common for women to have children later in life and at BabyCentre we've noticed the community continuing to grow with women over 35 - the age that you're officially classed as an 'older' mother. This shift isn't something unique to our community; according to the latest ONS figures, the number of women aged over 35 having babies has overtaken women under 24 for the first time.
However, despite the increase in women giving birth later in life there are still many myths surrounding pregnancies for those 35+. Here are just a few...
Myth: It's virtually impossible to conceive naturally over the age of 35
Conception is often the most confusing topic surrounding older women. It's true that it is more difficult to become pregnant as you get older, but it's a myth that you can't conceive naturally. It's well known that if you are over 35 it may take you longer to get pregnant, however, you may be surprised that 82 per cent of women aged 35 to 39 only take a maximum of 12 months to conceive, with another 8 per cent taking one to two years to conceive.
The other good news is that if you're 36 years or over, you do not have to keep trying for a year before you see your GP, if after six months you haven't conceived you should make an appointment. . The pressure of getting pregnant can be intense, especially when you are facing obstacles. The good news is there are now so many options available to women who are finding it hard to conceive. IVF is probably the most well-known, with 18,000 IVF babies born in the UK in 2013 (ONS). Be cautious, it can be expensive and is often a physically and emotionally draining experience with only a 1 in 4 success rate for women over 35. . Other options include fertility drugs.
Myth: You won't have the energy to look after a baby as an older mum
One of the saddest myths is that having a child later in life is bound to be a negative experience, when in reality it has many benefits. For example, if you are over 35 you may already have a better diet and exercise more regularly than younger women, giving you more energy and helping to contribute to a healthy pregnancy and birth. You may also have already established your independence and career, meaning financially you're in a better place to support the needs and demands of a child. You're also likely to be more confident than you were 10 to 15 years ago. Before becoming pregnant, money, lifestyle and career are all aspects many women consider carefully.
Myth: Getting pregnant as an older woman is too risky
This month, Gordon Ramsey's wife Tana, who is 41, suffered a rare late miscarriage. The news is extremely sad and although miscarriages do happen, it's not always the case for older women, even after the age of 35 most pregnancies do not end in miscarriages although this does rise after the age of 45. The facts are that as a woman over 35 you are more likely to have complications such as high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, placenta praevia, premature birth, miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy. However, your midwife or obstetrician will be well aware of these slightly increased risks for older mums and monitor these during your antenatal appointments. They will explain the screening and diagnostic tests that are available to you, and advise you about how to stay healthy. Eating well, exercising regularly, not smoking and cutting out alcohol will help you to have a healthy pregnancy.
Not all older mums are destined to have problematic pregnancies. At 38, I had a trouble free pregnancy and labour but it's always best to be aware of the risks so you can have the safest pregnancy possible, and try not to get too anxious!
Myth: You won't get the right support
Every woman is different and the 24-hour responsibilities of a new born baby may come as a shock, regardless of your age, so it's really important to build a good support network around you. Being an older mum doesn't t mean that you can't find the right help and support you need. Taking antenatal classes while you're pregnant is a great way to meet other local women who are expecting. Mother-and-baby groups after the birth can give you the social contact and support you need. At BabyCentre we see a wide age range of mums coming to our site and forums to seek advice and reassurance. We have a range of groups, so expecting and new mums can come together with like-minded women - whatever their age - for support.
Pregnancy is an exciting time for women, so whatever your age, enjoy the experience.