MAURA DERRANE is in good company. At 43, the RTÉ presenter is pregnant with her first child.
With her baby due in June, she’s about to join a celebrity club of older mothers that includes Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Nicole Kidman and Carla Bruni. All had babies in their 40s.
In reports earlier this week, the glamorous Today co-host said she and her TD husband, John Deasy, pictured below, were “absolutely over the moon” to be expecting a baby. “It’s a very exciting time… It’s perfect timing — everything fell into place for us. I’m at a very happy, comfortable stage in my life,” the Aran Island native told reporters.
Despite medical warnings that female fertility declines steadily from about age 35, luck does smile on many hopeful 40-something mums.
“We’d see a reasonable number of women in their 40s getting pregnant naturally. We’ve even had a 48 and a 49-year-old — it wasn’t a first pregnancy for either of them but it was a big surprise,” says Dr Mary McCaffrey, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Scotia Clinic Tralee. She estimates her clinic sees more than 10 women a year who are pregnant naturally and aged 40-plus.
Professor Louise Kenny, also a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, as well as director of the Irish Centre for Foetal and Neonatal Translational Research, says it’s not particularly uncommon for women to conceive naturally when they’re 40 and 41.
“But there’s a steady drop-off between 40 and 45. The odds are much better at 40. In a pretty busy practice, I can think of only one 45-year-old who got pregnant spontaneously in the last year or two.”
Maura Derrane is part of a trend that sees increasing numbers of women having babies older.
ESRI figures for the 40-44 year age group show that 272 women gave birth for the first time in 2000, 451 did so in 2005 and 797 in
2010. Women giving birth at 45 and older stood at 12 in 2000, 31 in 2005 and 56 in 2010.
Consultant obstetrician, gynaecologist and director of Clane
Fertility Clinic Dr Peter Brinsden says many factors lie behind women’s postponement of pregnancy, including pursuit of a professional career and the wait for Mr Right.
“Many men don’t want to commit to having children. You’ve got to have a willing partner,” he says.
Maura Derrane has been with her Mr Right for eight years. But, as Dr Brinsden points out, luck too is an indispensable ingredient in the post-40 pregnancy.
Even as recently as two weeks ago, the British government’s chief medical officer warned that women, who put off having babies until they’re older, risk not having any because they’ve left it too late.
“The steady shift to have children later, there are issues with that. We all assume we can have children later but actually we may not be able to,” Prof Dame Sally Davies said.
The consequences of waiting too long are nowhere more evident than in fertility clinics.
A report from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, published in 2012, shows that in 2007, 1,768 IVF cycles were carried out in six Irish fertility clinics. More than 20% of the women were aged 40 or older.
At Clane Fertility Clinic the proportion of over-40s women looking for fertility assistance went from 26% in 2008 to 33% in 2011.
“But women who go through IVF have a much higher chance of conceiving at 40 with their own eggs than they do at 43,” says Professor Kenny. “A woman undergoing IVF with her own eggs at age 40 — her chances are 25%. By 44, her chances are down to 1.6% — so low that it’s hardly worth [pursuing]. Many who do conceive at 44 or 45 do so with donor eggs.”
For women expecting in their 40s, there can be greater concerns about the baby’s health. One in three of these pregnancies ends in miscarriage. At 40, the risk of having a baby with Down syndrome is one in 100, but at 45 it’s one in 20.
A 40-something mum is more likely to have high blood pressure and some experts say risk of gestational diabetes rises two or three-fold. Professor Kenny believes this risk is over-stated in the case of healthy women. “If mum’s active, slim and healthy, has a good diet, doesn’t smoke and has no medical conditions, risk of high blood pressure and diabetes isn’t that much greater for older women.”
Which is good news for Maura Derrane. Just under two years ago, in an interview with Feelgood, she said she was “not super fit but healthy enough. I do a bit of walking and I’ve started jogging. I try to exercise three times a week…I’m very lucky. I’ve never been in hospital”. When it came to healthy eating, she described being “wonderful at breakfast…. I’d always have eggs or porridge with honey, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds”.
Mary McCaffrey says women heading into pregnancy at 40-plus need to be in the peak of health. “Many older women are more likely to be healthy — they’re less likely to be smoking and drinking like teenagers.”
Mary Cronin, a self-employed community midwife, sees many older pregnant women and finds they are usually “minding themselves, trying to do all the right things to be fit and healthy”. She points out that the bodies of younger women are more supple and flexible when it comes to childbirth but the exception is always there. She recently assisted a 46-year-old at a planned hospital birth. “She was like a young one. She was amazing,” she says.
Forty and 50-year-old parents of young children may not have the energy they had a couple of decades earlier but there are definite advantages to being an older parent.
“They’re probably more socially and economically settled in their lives. The child can benefit from their life experience,” says McCaffrey.
Professor Kenny says parents in their 40s are different parents. “They’re generally more mature and more focused on their children because they’ve had time to work and do the travel bit. They put their babies first.”
All of which bodes well for Maura Derrane’s baby.
Statistics show that women are having babies later
¦ A 2012 ESRI Report showed that first-time mothers were almost two years older giving birth in 2010 compared to 10 years earlier.
¦ Overall, women are having babies older. Almost 28% were aged 35 and over in 2010, up six percent since 2001.
¦ You’ve got a 90% chance of success if you start trying to get pregnant at 30.
¦ Wait until you’re 40 and you’ve got a 40% chance of not getting pregnant.
¦ By age 45, your chance of becoming pregnant naturally is 1.5%.
¦ One in three women under 35 will get pregnant with one IVF treatment. A woman aged 40-42 has a 15% chance with one treatment.
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