When we look at Hollywood, we seem to see nothing but gorgeous (and thin, always thin! ) women who seem to have it all. They have fabulous careers all the way to forty without the challenges (or career-killers) that having children can sometimes cause in an industry that celebrates 24-hour availability of celebrities.
They have millions of dollars and figures a fashion model would envy. Then they get to have healthy kids into their forties without a care in the world. Or so it seems.
Actresses like Geena Davis and Kelly Preston (both close to 50!) have done it. Now Halle Berry at 46 (47 at the time of birth) is also making the news as an older mom-to-be. Many do go through IVF although some are less forthcoming about it than others, which is their right.
But it does tend to give a false impression that getting pregnant is easy and free when a woman is in her forties, when the reality is that it's very hard to get pregnant at this age.
And most women over the age of 45 who have a first child are using IVF, a very expensive and sometimes highly emotionally charged way to bring a child into the world.
From a physical standpoint, for instance, Berry shouldn't have too much trouble. She is physically fit, and has access to excellent health care and nutrition. But as healthy and youthful as she is, her eggs are still 46 years old. And that's where problems can start.
According to a Reuters article about a study in older motherhood, 131 first-time pregnant women ages 45 to 65 from Israel showed that 40 percent developed diabetes due to their pregnancies and 2 out of 10 developed pre-eclampsia, a dangerous pregnancy condition.
Most babies were born by C-section -- something that is major surgery for the mother and makes recovery harder.
The risks of having a baby in one's mid-to-late forties were significantly increased. One out of three babies were born either premature or underweight, or both, to mothers 45 to 49.
For women in the study who were 50 and older, one out of every three babies were under five and a half pounds, and half of these babies were born prematurely.
This isn't to say that having a child over the age of 45 is impossible. It isn't.
Most women will not get pregnant on their own. They will need IVF. Only 5 of the 131 mothers in the Israeli study got pregnant naturally. But older women can have healthy pregnancies and babies, especially when they are very carefully monitored.
Other potential problems cannot be prevented, like having a child with special needs like Down syndrome. According to the March of Dimes, a woman over the age of 45 has a 1 in 30 chance of having a child with this condition, and it's 1 in 10 by the time the mother is 49.
It's important to consider all these risks before going ahead with a pregnancy.
There are many reasons for wanting a baby in one's forties. Many women have focused on their careers and unlike men, have had to sacrifice having babies at a younger age in order to get ahead.
Other women are on their second marriages in their forties and would like to have a child with their new husbands. Others don't find a partner to father their children until older, or choose to wait for other reasons.
There are no black and white answers to questions about having a child over the age of 45. For most women, it won't happen unless there is medical intervention but for those who are in very good health and have the resources to raise a child at an older age, success can certainly be achieved.
Are you 45 or older and looking to get pregnant? What do you think of older, first-time motherhood? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Let us know in the comments below!
EmpowHER has a very busy thread on this topic - having a baby in one's mid-forties. Click here to read about the many reasons these women want to start or complete their families, their fears, questions and successes: https://www.empowher.com/community/ask/45-too-old-have-baby
Reuters. First baby over age 45? Expect complications: study. Web. Retrieved April 11th, 2013.
March of Dimes Foundation. Retrieved April 11th, 2013.
Reviewed April 12, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN