The problems of being an older mum

Times On Line (UK) 18 November 2008

In the past decade the number of women giving birth in their late thirties and forties has doubled. But do we pay enough attention to the psychological and physical turmoil that they face?

…According to Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), Cadzow’s reaction is fairly common among older mothers who have enjoyed successful careers before giving birth. “They’ve spent a large part of their lives in a world of logic, deadlines and where people do what they are asked. When they have a baby, none of these applies,” she says. “It’s also physically very wearing and isolating. They’re missing their job and colleagues and their partner will probably also be at work. And what they’re doing now is essentially extremely menial. So it comes as an enormous, exhausting shock.” For many older women, births can also be more physically demanding, as complications that come with age may result in emergency Caesarean sections or other interventions that take longer to recover from. In addition, they may not have the energy they had a decade earlier to cope with the broken nights of a newborn.

Dr Anna McGee, senior lecturer in developmental psychology at Caledonian University, Glasgow, says that motherhood can take a bigger psychological and physical toll on older mothers than on younger ones. “There doesn’t appear to be an increase in postnatal depression as it is hormonally driven, but tiredness is a key difficulty, as is reduced flexibility in adjusting to someone else’s needs,” she says. “An older childless couple will be accustomed to making last-minute decisions or being free to schedule what they want to do when they want to do it. This goes out of the window with children – from the early days of the four-hourly feeds right through school age.”