When one thinks of a pregnant woman, the mental image that is created is that of a woman in her 20s or 30s. Yes, there are many women who get pregnant in their teens or in their 40’s. But in their 60’s? Wow! When Chaya Sarah Shachar gave birth to a healthy boy last May, she made international headlines. At age 65, after 46 years of marriage, she became a mother for the first time. Just a year earlier, the newspapers reported another wonder birth – a woman became a first-time mother at age 61. The world’s oldest mother is Omkari Panwar, who gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, at the incredible age of 70 (read story).
In the United States, between 1997 and 1999, a study reported 539 births among mothers over age 50 (four per 100,000 births), with 194 being over 55. There is a growing, worldwide trend of women starting motherhood at a later age. According to a Pew Research Center Report, births to women ages 35 and older grew 64% between 1990 and 2008, increasing in all major race and ethnic groups. The rates increases have been sharpest for women in the oldest groups – 47% for women ages 35-39 and 80% for women ages 40-44. This means that, compared to 25 years ago, almost double the number of first-time mothers are aged 40 and older!
This delay in age of motherhood seems to be associated with marriage at a later age and with increase in educational attainment. In general, the more educated a woman is, the more she values her career and the later she tends to have children. Recent advances in assisted reproductive technology, in particular egg donation, are allowing women like Omkari Panwar and Chaya Sarah Shachar to give birth when they previously wouldn’t have been able to do so.
Conceiving and giving birth after 50 may carry significant problems to the mother and to the baby. Studies of older mothers have shown an increased risk of gestational diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), delivery by C-section, and miscarriage. In comparison to mothers between 20 and 29 years of age, a study showed that mothers over 50 are at almost three times the risk of low birth weight, premature birth, and extremely premature birth.
Governments have sometimes taken actions to regulate or restrict later-in-life childbearing. In the 1990s, France approved a bill which prohibited postmenopausal pregnancy, which the French Minister of Health at the time, Philippe Douste-Blazy, said was “…immoral as well as dangerous to the health of mother and child”. In Italy, the Association of Medical Practitioners and Dentists prevented its members from providing women aged 50 and over with fertility treatment. Britain’s then-Secretary of State for Health, Virginia Bottomley, stated, “Women do not have the right to have a child; the child has a right to a suitable home”. However, in 2005, age restrictions on IVF in the United Kingdom were officially withdrawn (see news).
Undoubtedly, being an older mother can bring a mix of joy and hardship. It is common for older mothers to be overprotective of their children and to feel pressure to be the perfect parent. But these women also bring with them the maturity of having experienced life more fully. Of course, each case is unique. But all these mothers share the understanding that the miracle of motherhood is an unparalleled privilege.
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You may also want to read the following related posts in Pregistry’s blog: The Need For Birth Control Doesn’t Necessarily End On Your 45th Birthday, Advanced Maternal Age: How Risky Is Risky?, and Delaying Motherhood: It’s a Thing.