How old is too old to have a baby?

How far should medical intervention go for women who wish to have babies at a later stage in life?

How old is too old to have a baby? According to new research conducted by the Private Pregnancy UK Show, British women believe that 44 should be the cut-off point, the main reasons being that: it is unfair on the child to have old parents who won’t live long enough to see him or her grow up; there is an increased likelihood of complications such as Down’s Syndrome; and it is “unnatural” to have babies after this age.

Dr Alex Eskander, consultant gynaecologist at The Gynae Centre agrees that 44 is too old for a woman to have children. He comments, “As a clinician, let’s be clear – I am not scare-mongering – it is a fact that ovarian function declines significantly from 30 years of age and even more sharply after 35 years. As a result, it is difficult to conceive and the conception maybe associated with a high rate of chromosome abnormalities and increased chances of miscarriage. From the mother’s standpoint, there is a high risk of hypertension, pre-eclampsia and caesarean section.”

 As a society, we should be encouraging couples to have children at a younger age

Whether a woman has delayed pregnancy for career reasons, health problems, financial reasons, or because she simply hasn’t met the right person, increasing numbers of women now start (or hope to start) their families over the age of 35. But, often, they are unaware that this may be too late – and that IVF is not the fertility cure-all that they may think it is.

Dr Amin Gorgy, fertility consultant and IVF specialist at The Fertility and Gynaecology Academy comments, “IVF must be put into perspective if used after the age of 35 as the chances of having a live birth with an IVF cycle declines dramatically with age. For example, there is a 20% success rate at the age of 40 which falls to just 1% above the age of 45. Yes, successful egg freezing through vitrification has made it possible for women to postpone conception to later in life but, as a society, we should be encouraging couples to have children at a younger age.”

There isn’t enough education available to women, many of whom still believe they can go on forever

Like three quarters of the women surveyed, Gorgy believes that, “There isn’t enough education available to women, many of whom still believe they can go on forever” and that more information about women’s fertility and the options available to help preserve it and/or assist with conception needs to be made accessible. His advice to young women who may end up delaying conception beyond the age of 35 is to “seriously consider egg or embryo freezing (with donor sperm) as an ‘insurance policy’”.

Meanwhile, if you are in a position to start a family earlier, the message is clear: don’t wait until it’s too late.

Dr Gorgy and Dr Eskander will be joining a wider panel of experts who will be hosting this debate in a women’s healthcare Question Time seminar on Sunday 22 May at the Private Pregnancy UK Show. For more information, please visit www.privatepregnancy.co.uk

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