Children born to older women get better start, study claims
CHILDREN OF older mothers are healthier and more settled and they develop language skills faster in their early years, according to a major new study.
Increasing maternal age is associated with fewer accidents and hospital admissions, the research published today on the website of the British Medical Journal shows.
Fewer social and emotional difficulties and a higher likelihood of early immunisations by nine months of age were also found among the children of women aged 40 and over.
Researchers from University College London’s Institute of Child Health based their findings on analysis of data from more than 78,000 births in England between 2000 and 2002. The mothers varied in age from 13 to 57 years. The results were adjusted for factors such as age and social class, as well as the child’s age and birth weight.
They suggest the differences could be explained by environmental factors such as differences in parenting, or by genetic factors such as the father’s age. Earlier research has shown the longer fathers wait to have children, the more likely their offspring will have longer and healthier lives.
The findings will be welcomed by the growing numbers of 40-something mothers, who now account for almost 5 per cent of births in Irish maternity hospitals. The trend towards late childbearing is an international one; in England and Wales, the number of births to women in their 40s (and up) has trebled between 1989 and 2009.
Up to now, research has tended to highlight the dangers of later childbearing, which include a greater risk of miscarriage and foetal abnormalities. The authors of the latest study say their findings are “noteworthy”, given the continuing increase in the average age of childbearing.
The results show that both the risk of accidents and hospital admissions decreased with increasing maternal age. For instance, the risk of a child of nine months with a mother aged 20 having an accident was 9.5 per cent; this fell to 6.1 per cent for a mother of 40. This decline continued for three- and five-year-olds.
Similarly, the risk of a nine-month-old with a 20-year-old mother being hospitalised was 16 per cent, which fell to 10.7 per cent for a mother of 40. This trend continued for three-year-olds, but no major difference was noted for five-year-olds.
No major difference was noted for body mass index – an indicator of obesity – between the age groups.
Children of older mothers were found to have better language development and fewer social and emotional difficulties. The authors say older mothers tend to be more educated, have higher incomes and be married – all factors associated with greater child wellbeing.
Some 3,673 babies were born to Irish mothers aged 40 and over in 2010. The average age of Irish women giving birth was 31.5 years, up from 30.3 years in 2001. Almost 28 per cent of births were to women aged 35 years or older, up from 22 per cent.