Having Your First Baby
Over 35? Over 40? and Beyond...

By Gayle Peterson, Ph.D.

Since 1982 there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of women having first babies in their mid-thirties and later. Increased numbers of women born during the 1947-l965 baby boom are entering their later childbearing years and many of these women have delayed raising children until later in life. It is expected that these two factors will increase the proportion of total births accounted for by this age group by 72% from 1982 to the turn of the century (cited in "Older Maternal Age and Pregnancy Outcome," by John P. Hansen, Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey, volume 41, no. 11, 1986. )

Statistics for pregnancy and labor outcome for women having first babies over the age of thirty-five are varied and inconclusive. Though there is a higher rate of complication in labor including a greater number of cesarean sections for older women, statistics do not separate out women who are healthy during their pregnancies from women who experience other medical problems, such as diabetes and toxemia. Most authorities on this topic agree that if you are generally healthy, get exercise and maintain a healthy diet your chances of having a normal labor should not be any different now than when you were twenty-five.

However neither of these viewpoints address the special emotional concerns and stresses which are a reality for the woman having her first child later in life. These are important to consider since attention to emotional concerns can decrease anxiety which could otherwise contribute to difficulties in labor.

Women having children later in life come to parenthood with a different perspective. Work and career have often played a large part in women's lives by the time they reach their mid-thirties. The life changes for women who have established careers or work activities before having children are very different from the changes of women who are still in early adulthood.

Women in my practice who are having babies later in life commonly have feelings of greater loss of their previous lifestyle. Their work and career identities are more established and so they often have greater adjustments to make to new motherhood. Even when career goals are not a concern, mid-life is a different time in the life cycle to give birth. Independence and freedom have become long lasting patterns of life which must change. Financial arrangements in the marriage may also shift dramatically if the woman held a high paying position and will be losing her income to stay home with a new baby. These changes may affect a woman's self-esteem and account for a greater degree of emotional adjustment.

And finally, women having babies later in life have often waited because of their own fearful expectations of motherhood. Not all women who have waited until later life to have a baby are fearful. However it is possible that women waiting to have babies until later in life are in general a more ambivalent group. Additional stress of down's syndrome and other genetic defects that increase with age also contribute to anxiety for the pregnant mother over thirty-five. Medical researchers have long overlooked the influence of life change factors on the outcome of labor. In the quest to understand the higher complication rate of women over thirty five, researchers have missed the emotional life of the women they study!

If you have concerns about blending family and career, financial change, or letting go of your previous lifestyle you are amidst a growing number of women. Your concerns are real and need to be addressed. Joining a support group and writing in a daily journal will help you work through your fears. Talking with your partner and other women who are experiencing the changes of motherhood in mid-life can make the difference between postpartum depression and a healthy adjustment to motherhood.

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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