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HEALTH experts should stop ‘terrifying' older women about the risks of having babies, Britain's top midwife has said.
Professor Cathy Warwick, the chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said experts had overstated the problems attached to age.
The number of older mothers has soared in recent decades, as more women concentrate on their career first.
Women now have their first child five years later on average than they did 47 years ago. The average age of first-time motherhood in England and Wales is 28.6, up from 23.5 in 1970.
And the proportion of over-40s mothers has trebled in three decades, from 4.9 per 1,000 in 1984 to 14.7 per 1,000 in 2014.
Doctors tend to warn women not to leave it too late – stressing that with age fertility drops, the chance of complications increase, and the chance of birth defects also rise.
But Warwick, who is due to stand down this week after nine years at the helm of the RCM, said the risks were being overplayed.
‘Even if you have your baby at 42 or 45, it's a relatively small increase in risk to you if you're otherwise healthy,' she told The Sunday Telegraph. ‘I'm not sure why we're quite so worried about the age issue and I'm not sure we should be terrifying women about it.'
She also said women should feel no guilt about bottle-feeding their baby, despite years of campaigning for more breastfeeding.
‘If women don't breastfeed, I don't think they should feel guilty,' she said. ‘We have to say "breast is best" because it is, but what's best for the population is maybe different from what's best for the individual woman, and an individual woman can very successfully bond with their baby and bottle-feed their baby.' Warwick's views on age are in direct contrast with those of many leading fertility doctors, who say many women leave it late to have children because they do not realise the risks.
The British Fertility Society has warned that celebrities who have children in their 40s are giving women false hope about late motherhood.Chairman Adam Balen, said the celebrities who paraded ‘miracle babies' will often have used IVF or donor eggs. Because they do not make this public their fans fail to realise the fertility issues and health problems that may result.
‘If more celebrities were prepared to speak out it would do the world of fertility medicine a lot of good,' Professor Balen said.
Women aged 30 to 34 have stillbirth rates of 4.7 per 1,000 pregnancies – rising to 7.6 per 1,000 pregnancies among women over 40.
The chance of abnormalities such as Down's syndrome rises from one in 800 for a woman of 30, to one in 100 for a woman of 40. The latest statistics suggest fathers are also leaving it late. Some 15 per cent of children born in England and Wales in 2014 had a father aged 40 and above, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The average age of fathers was 33.1, nearly four years older than four decades earlier, when they were 29.4.
And older fathers – such as the Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood who became a dad again last year at the age of 68 – are celebrated.
Professor Allan Pacey, a fertility expert at the University of Sheffield, said: ‘Older mothers are lambasted, but for a man of the age of Ronnie Wood, we hand round the cigars, slap him on the back and say "there's life in the old dog yet". It is something deep-rooted in society.'
© Daily Mail