Fertile in Your Forties
Record numbers give birth later in life
By: Madeleine Brindley
The number of women giving birth in their 40s has reached record levels.
And experts have predicted that these numbers will increase further as new fertility techniques allow women to postpone motherhood.
New figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that the conception rate for women aged 40-44 rose by 6% between 2005 and 2006 – the fastest growth in any age group.
By comparison, the number of teenagers becoming pregnant in England and Wales fell from 41.4 to 40.7 conceptions per 1,000.
The trend is exemplified by an increasing number of celebrity mothers who are becoming pregnant after they pass 40.
Sophie Rhys-Jones, the Countess of Wessex, and actresses Jane Seymour and Marcia Cross have all recently given birth after their 40th birthday.
Peter Bowen-Simpkins, co-medical director of the London Women’s Clinic, which has bases in Cardiff and Swansea, said, “Many women, especially professional women, are putting off having children because of career prospects, not losing a promotion, because of high mortgage payments and not finding the right partner. For busy women, sometimes it can be hard to settle down.”
Dr Jacky Boivin, a reader in psychology at Cardiff University, said it was not simply a case of women putting their careers ahead of parenthood.
She said that the current tendency of both men and women to have more sexual partners could be having an impact on fertility as a result of exposure to sexually transmitted infections.
And the amount of time people now spend in education means that many aspects of adulthood – including a career, marriage and parenthood – are inevitably delayed.
“It’s not as straightforward as saying it’s because women are going off and having a career – in reality these women are conceiving with blokes so it’s a case of a couple choosing when to conceive. And lots of people have become ambivalent towards having children so they are taking longer to decide whether they want to uproot their lives in this way.”
The NHS does not currently allow women over 38 to have a free cycle of IVF, so those who need help conceiving later in life are spending thousands of pounds to achieve the belated dream of becoming a mother.
Many also rely on donated eggs because the quality of their own declines rapidly after the age of 42.
But this could be set to change as increasing numbers of clinics are offering women the chance to freeze their eggs in their 30s Mr Bowen-Simpkins, a spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, added, “If we go back to Victorian times women would be having their 10th baby in their 40s, but after the age of 42 fertility drops extremely fast because the quality of eggs decline. For some women it will happen naturally, for others it doesn’t and they need help. We are now doing a lot of cycles with donated eggs.
“Freezing eggs is becoming increasingly common for younger women in their 30s – about 80% will survive.
This means that these women will be able to have their own genetic children when, at the moment, they are having someone else’s genetic child.”
Julie Bentley, chief executive officer of the FPA, formerly known as the Family Planning Association, said,” woman has to make her own decision about the right time to have baby.
“As long as women are aware that their fertility naturally clines over the age of 35, and that it will probably take a bit longer to get pregnant, late motherhood is a valid choice.
“These figures illustrate that the traditional ‘get married have children’ reality for many women.”
Tell us: Why are more women giving birth in their 40s? Would you ever freeze your eggs?