Are You Too Old To Have A Healthy Baby?

This week, an Australian woman delivered a baby at the age of 62 after having in vitro fertilisation (IVF) abroad.

Few women can naturally conceive a baby later in life without the help of IVF – and these are rarely first pregnancies. These women go through menopause later, and have lower risks of heart disease, osteoporosis and dementia.

But does that mean that it’s safe to start a family later in life? Are there other risks and complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth in your 50s and 60s – or even your 40s?

Changing demographics

A woman’s reproductive capacity has a finite lifespan. Her eggs initially grow when she is inside her mother’s womb, and are stored inside her ovaries until she begins to menstruate. Each month, more than 400 eggs are lost by attrition until the four million she originally had are gone, and menopause begins.

Social and financial pressures are driving many Australian women who want to have children to wait until later in life. The number of women having babies in their 30s or later has almost doubled in the past 25 years in Australia, from 23% in 1991 to 43% in 2011.

Around one in 1,000 births occur to women 45 years or older. This rate is likely to increase as new technologies emerge, including egg donation.

What are the risks?

Women aged over 30 are more than twice as likely to suffer from life-threatening high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia) during pregnancy than under 30s (5% compared with 2%) and are twice as likely to have gestational diabetes (5-10% compared with 1-2.5%).

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