Women who give birth in their 50s are just as able to cope with motherhood as younger women, according to a study by fertility specialists. Surveys of older women having fertility treatment showed they found parenting no more stressful or physically demanding than women in their 30s and 40s, and they showed no signs of poorer mental health possibly brought on by feelings of isolation.
The findings counter views that older women may make less suitable mothers.
Anne Steiner, at the University of North Carolina, and Richard Paulson, at the University of Southern California, carried out surveys measuring parental stress and the mental and physical health of women who conceived over the age of 50 after treatment with donor eggs, and compared these women with others in their 30s and 40s who had conceived through in-vitro fertilization at the same time.
In the survey, women were asked questions such as whether they found it harder than expected to get their children to behave, and whether they thought their children cried more than others.
To assess the mental and physical demands of parenting, the women were asked whether they often felt isolated and friendless, and how far they could walk without discomfort.
The surveys were filled by 64 women and showed those in their 50s were no different in mental or physical health compared with those in their 30s and 40s.
Parental stress was found to be lowest among women in their 30s and highest among those in their 40s, with those in their 50s ranking in between.
Steiner was to present the findings yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in New Orleans.
She said many of the older women were married to significantly younger men, a factor that might have helped reduce the stress of motherhood, and they were financially comfortable. Their children were also no older than 12.
Gillian Lockwood, medical director at Midland Fertility Services in the UK, said the research supported decisions by some women to have children later in life.
"I don't agree with the view that men may father a child into their late 80s, but it's wrong for women to want to extend their fertility after 45. That's ageist and sexist," Lockwood said.
Above the age of 45, however, women have twice the risk of stillbirth and ectopic pregnancy. Rates of pre-eclampsia and diabetes roughly triple for women over 55.