When Sinead O’Callaghan’s friends and family found out she was pregnant they were delighted for her, but also concerned. “I think my mum initially was quite worried,” she says.
“Just because of my age and the complications associated with being an older mum, like Down Syndrome and so on.
“I actually didn’t tell many people until I was five months gone, just because I knew that even with the best will in the world, people would want to poke their noses in.”
Sinead, now proud mum of her 22-month-old daughter Rebecca, was 41 when she had her and well aware that everyone has an opinion on giving birth past 40.
The subject tends to attract negative press largely because of the risks attached to later-in-life pregnancy.
Not only do the chances of getting pregnant in the first place decrease — women at 40 have a 40pc likelihood of conceiving naturally, dropping to 5pc post 45 — but carrying a child to term brings additional risks.
There’s a greater possibility of developing high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and miscarriage. And when the child is born there’s a higher risk of birth defects, most notably Down Syndrome, which affects one-in-200 babies born to mothers over 40 compared to one-in-700 for mums aged 35 to 39.
But get beyond the scary statistics and there are plenty of 40-something mums who go on to have a wonderful experience — perhaps made better because they’re older.
“We had been trying for years and then, finally, after our third go at IVF, we discovered we were having three boys,” says Ann Cowman who gave birth in August 2010, one month before her 43rd birthday.
“They would have been special no matter when we’d had them. But I think because they’d been so hoped for and wanted, it’s made us especially happy.”
Ann and her husband Richard had been trying for almost seven years to get pregnant so it was by accident not design that parenthood came when it did.
But according to Ann, being an older mum to Eric, Alex and Jack has brought with it additional benefits.
She says: “I think I was more relaxed because I was older and, in turn, that made the boys more relaxed.
“I’ve seen young people with babies and they’re very anxious holding them. Not only had I plenty of practice holding friends and family’s babies, but I also felt confident in myself in a way that I wouldn’t have done in my twenties or thirties. I felt, ‘I can do this’.”
Sinead agrees. She met her partner in her late 30s and because of work and living in different countries, they didn’t start trying to conceive until 2009.
“I was very lucky and fell pregnant within months of trying and had a very easy pregnancy,” she says. “I always wanted to be a mum but it just didn’t happen until now.”
Statistics show an increasing number of Irish women are having children later in life.
The CSO’s figures for the third quarter of 2011 reveal there are more women in their early 40s giving birth than in previous years and the average age for first-time mums is slowly rising. In 2002 it was 27.9 now it’s just under 30.
This change is reflected in the chat on baby and parenting forums. “One look at our members and it’s clear that women are having their children later in life than in the past,” says Francis Mac Aonghus, spokesman for EUmom.ie, one of Ireland’s biggest parenting forums.
“We’ve witnessed a huge increase in the amount of interest in the subject of women conceiving over the age of 40, and the topic of being a young versus more mature mother is frequently one generating debate.”