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"I'm a more fulfilled human being now, and I probably wouldn't have been 10 years ago. She gets a better mother for being born now." – Salma Hayek, actress, activist, first-time mom at age 40
Singer and actress Janet Jackson recently announced she was pregnant at age 49—and the media went wild with surprise, awe, and a bit of anger.
Yes, it’s extremely rare and not always healthy for an almost 50-year-old woman to be pregnant, but we live in a different world today. Presently, many women are having babies later in life; a trend some health experts believe isn’t ceasing anytime soon. My own mother had my sister at age 40, and my great-grandmother had my aunt at age 40—a very, very big deal in the 1940’s—but today, times are a-changin’ and many women are finding themselves pregnant past age thirty-five.
Welcome to today
“I think older women should recognize that they represent ‘the new normal’,” says Dr. Mary Norton, a San Francisco-based perinatologist. “ I see as many pregnant patients over 30 as I do women under thirty.”
According to Dr. Norton, nationally, the average age of women giving birth is now almost 30 years old, and many more women over 35 are having children. “There are several reasons why. First, more women are working, and often working in busy careers. As more women have healthy pregnancies and babies in their 30’s and 40’s, it has become more acceptable and routine to wait a little longer to start a family,” she says.
Plus, continues Dr. Norton, “fertility treatments are better for those older women who have difficulty conceiving. Birth control options have also improved, and women are able to wait until the time is right for themselves and their partner.”
The pros of older parenting
Manhattan-based psychotherapist Robi Ludwig, Psy.D, author of Your Best Age is Now says “there are many perks” to being an older parent.
“First and foremost, there is usually a very strong desire to be a parent for the older mother, so becoming a parent later in life is viewed as a gift or a blessing. These women really appreciate the opportunity to be a parent and have a very strong appreciation for parenting in general.”
Adds Ludwig: “Older moms can focus more on their kids and not feel like they’re missing out. They’re wiser, and tend to feel more confident as parents in general and have had the opportunity to pursue their other dreams and desires in life, so parenthood can be fully enjoyed and focused on in a way they couldn’t have before.”
“If women are feeling concerned about their fertility options, they should talk to their OB-GYN,” says Dr. Diana Ramos , a Los Angeles-based OB-GYN and Co-Chair of the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative . “Find out about the options of freezing your eggs. Some of my patients have decided to do this to take the pressure off having to find the ‘right’ relationships before they turn thirty.”
According to Dr. Ramos, egg freezing gives some patients “the confidence to know they can have a child when they’re ready. It gives them time to create the right circumstances for having the family life they want. Some women decide they want to have a child alone, and if a partner comes along afterwards, that’s OK, too. Women have to decide what they want in their lives and then make it happen for herself.”
If you’re over age 35 and considering pregnancy, Dr. Ramos advises women take a multi-vitamin that has folic acid or a pre-natal vitamin, daily, even if you’re not pregnant. “Also, be at a healthy weight. If you are obese, lose weight because that can lead to infertility and put you at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and a C-section during pregnancy.”
Also, she says, don’t smoke, drink heavily, or take drugs if you’re trying to conceive. Dr. Ramos also recommends a pre-conception visit with your OB-GYN to discuss your health; and bring your partner along (if feasible) if you can to discuss your past and present health histories.
“You may need certain immunizations, for example, and if you're on medication, you should discuss with your doctor if these medications are safe to take during a pregnancy, or not.”
Find your support group
Additionally, Dr. Ramos suggests working with a doctor you really click with; and not someone who makes you feel badly that you’re considering pregnancy later in life.
“This is an important phase in your life and you need to feel comfortable,” she says. “Find an MD that respects you and inspires the confidence; be proactive in your own health. That's the first step—you have to be your own health advocate so you can later on be your child’s health advocate.”
Adds Dr. Norton: “ Women do have a small increase for having a baby with certain birth defects as they get older, so they should talk with a genetic counselor early in pregnancy to decide if they want genetic testing.”
Plus, remember you’re not alone. Women all over the world are having babies, from ages 16 to fifty. Find people who support you and your endeavors, and as, Dr. Ramos says, remember that kids can “keep you young.”
Dr. Ludwig wants women to ask themselves a very simple, but important, question, as they embrace their pregnancy.
“What does being ‘too old’ mean, anyway? It's all relative. Look to all the fabulous older and glamorous women in Hollywood who have become mothers.”
Celebrity older moms include Halle Berry, Tina Fey, Salma Hayek, Alyssa Milano, and Eva Mendes—to name just a few.
“Older mothers are in good— and glam!—company these days,” adds Dr. Ludwig. “Society is always changing and growing.”