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09th Jun 2022

Irish first-time mums are older than ever before – and here’s what that means

Trine Jensen-Burke

“The longer you wait to have a baby, the more risks you will face.”

The average age of first-time mothers in Ireland now stands at 31.6 years – which is an increase of two-and-a-half months since last year.

And – maybe more importantly – nearly two full years (21.5 months) older than they were back in 2011.

Speaking on Newstalk earlier this week, Professor Sam Coulter-Smith, the former Master of the Rotunda Hospital, said he has seen a sharp increase in the age of first-time mums during his career.

“When I started, it was normal for women in their 20s to be having babies and now it has moved up to women in their 30s and the average age now would be early to mid-30s,” Coulter-Smith explained.

“We are even seeing women into their 40s and well into their 40s having babies now.”

The professor was speaking after CSO figures revealed the new average of first-time mothers in Ireland, and also that the average age of all mothers is now 33.3 years – a full three years older than it was in 2001.

first-time mums

Coulter-Smith reveals that the age increase when it comes to having babies is no doubt something that is down to a mix of social and financial factors – with women having greater control over their fertility – but also facing increased financial and career pressures.

Increased risk and complications

The professor explained that couples deciding to put off starting a family need to know they will face increased risks as they get older.

“When you’re in your early 20s and you’re working out when you might like to start a family, some of those things don’t hit the radar at all – but it’s important for people to realise that, as you get older, the risks do increase.

“The miscarriage rate goes up a little bit, the fertility rate goes down a little bit, the risk of having a baby with a foetal anomaly goes up – although that doesn’t really start rising until you are into your 40s.”

He also explained that women who struggle to stay fit and healthy as they get older as more likely to experience diabetes and thyroid disease and face complications in relation to preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.

“When the complication rate goes up, the intervention rate goes up, the induction rate goes up and the caesarean section rate goes up. So, there is a significant knock-on effect of putting off having babies until later.”

Family planning

However, when it comes to communicating the risks involved with putting off having babies until later can be really difficult – particularly with the issues facing young people in Ireland at the moment.

“I can absolutely get it for young couples,” Coulter-Smith said. “The pressure is there to get the deposit together so they can move in together and then move on with their lives.

“The career thing for women is also huge. People are putting off having babies until they reach a certain point in their career and then when they do get pregnant the pressure is on.

“They have delayed this and they want it to happen now. It has to happen now; it has to happen a particular way and there are all sorts of pressures that go along with that.

“There are many factors that come into play here, so it is about getting the message out there that there are lots of different things to consider when you are deciding when to start a family.”