THEY might get exhausted. They might find their energy levels lacking, and they may well find it tough having their peaceful lives turned upside down. But mums who give birth at 40, or older, have one huge advantage over their younger counterparts.
According to new research, their children are likely to be healthier and more intelligent than those born to younger mums. Their children will have less accidents too — and fewer admissions to hospital.
Research carried out at the Institute of Child Health, University College London, and Birbeck College, found that children of older mums showed more ability in developmental IQ skills, such as vocabulary, shape and picture identification, once social class was taken into account.
The researchers said their findings indicated that older mothers make better mothers. While acknowledging that older mums may face more risks during pregnancy and birth, researcher Dr Alastair Sutcliffe added, “We can reassure these older women, that their children are probably better off.”
But what do Irish experts make of the findings? Dr John Sharry, Director of Parents Plus Charity, www.parentsplus.ie, isn’t surprised by the results of the study.
“Older mothers might be better prepared for parenting,” he says. “They may have more time to dedicate to caring for a child, and may make parenting a more central priority in their lives.
“It is, of course, important to remember that age isn’t the central issue,” he says. “What matters most is the quality of your parenting whatever age you are. But older parents should take heart from the study.”
And it is great news for older mums. Mums like Susan Sarandon, who gave birth at 46; Jane Seymour, whose twins arrived when she was 44, and Halle Berry, who had a baby at 41. It’s also reassuring news for the increasing number of Irish mums who leave childbirth until their 40s.
The latest figures from the Central Statistics office — for the third quarter of 2011 — show that 5.1% of births were to women in their early 40s. A total of 972 children were born to women aged from 40 – 44 in that period. This compares with 878 births in the same period the year before, when the percentage was 4.6%.
Helen Healy had her first baby, Katie, when she was 35 and her second, Críosa a few months before her 40th birthday. Katie is now 11, and Críosa six.
“There is definitely a difference between the two girls,” she says. “With Katie I was cautious. I parented by trial and error. With Críosa I embraced the parenting process more. That has to do with my age, and where I am in my life. After Katie’s birth I turned to homeopathy. And I trained as a homeopath myself. My attitude definitely had an effect.
“While Katie is confident, she’s well able to get up on stage and perform; Críosa is very sure of herself, and has a different type of intelligence. She’s well able to put things together. She seems to make the connections. She understands why things operate the way they do.
“She asks questions ahead of herself, and has a curious intelligence. She was sitting drinking water the other day, and she said, ‘When I drink water, I think of life.’”
Apart from an incidence of E Coli, Críosa’s health has been excellent.
“She looks lanky, but she has energy to burn. When everyone else is collapsing, she’ll still be jumping. And she hasn’t had major colds. When the other children go down with them, she doesn’t.”
Mum-of-four Helena McMahon says the research findings on children of older women could also be explained by where the child comes in the family. Her fourth child, Ruairi, born when she was 41, certainly seems bright at two and a half, but that could be because his siblings — Maeve, 14, Áine, 11 and seven-year-old Eoghan — interact with him so well.
“Ruairi does have good speech, but the others are always talking to him,” she says.
“Yet, I can understand why children born later in their mother’s life might do better. Time with them is more precious when you’re over 40. I’m aware that Ruairi won’t be a baby forever, and I’m more understanding of him.
“I probably give a bit more. And I’m probably better at calculating risks than I was with my first child.”
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