Can family life begin at age 50?
New research suggests that it's fine to put family aside in your 30s and 40s. Women older than 50 make good mothers, too.
Women older than 50 are both mentally and physically strong enough to be good mothers, suggests research being presented at the meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in New Orleans.
"The point that should be made is that age doesn't determine if one is a good mother," said Dr. Jacques Moritz, director of gynecology at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.
Moritz practice includes one of the largest groups of mothers older than 50 in the country.
Middle-Age Motherhood Not Uncommon, but Carries Risks
Until now, some researchers suspected that the stress or physical limitations associated with aging could make parenting difficult for older women.
But more and more older women are now becoming first-time mothers with the help of medical and scientific advances, such as successful egg donation.
Doctors have used egg donation and other Assisted Reproductive Technology techniques to help women older than the age of natural menopause to become pregnant and deliver a healthy baby with success rates similar to those of younger women.
In January, a 66-year-old Italian mother celebrated her daughter's first birthday, and a 62-year-old California mother gave birth to her 12th child in February.
Although successful pregnancy is a possibility for older women, the pregnancy itself becomes more of a health risk to the mother-to-be as she gets older.
Pregnancies in women after age 35 are generally considered to be high risk.
But do these health risks make for a bad mother?
What Makes a "Good" Mother?
Researchers from the University of Southern California explored this question by comparing parenting stress levels and the physical health of older mothers to that of their younger counterparts.
Researchers say this is the first study to explore the notion that older women don't make good mothers.
The study suggests that this hypothesis is wrong.
The researchers examined 150 women in their 30s, 40s and 50s who had conceived their children using Assisted Reproductive Technology techniques between 1992 and 2004.
The study was designed so that for every woman in her 50s, researchers could look at a similar woman in her 40s and another similar woman in her 30s.
The women filled out mailed questionnaires about mental and physical well being, and on the stress of being a parent.
Overall the researchers found that women in their 50s were not more stressed out than the younger mothers, and that women in their 50s were just as physically capable of chasing a toddler as were the younger women.
Experts say it is important to understand how mothers are able to care for their children, no matter what their age.
"With more and more women seeking to have children later in life, it is imperative that we have this kind of research to help us understand the risks and how to minimize them," said the society's president, Dr. Joseph Sanfilippo, in a news release.
The finding is good news for women who want to wait to have children.
"This is an article showing that age really doesn't matter [when it comes to being a mother]," Moritz said.
But experts have concerns beyond mental and physical health -- such as money.
The study authors say they considered income when calculating their results, but this group of older Assisted Reproductive Technology women might not accurately reflect women everywhere.
"Donor egg patients tend to be mothers that are very well off financially," Moritz said. "We are looking at mothers that can afford help and a lot of it."
But no matter how much help older mothers may or may not be able to afford, this study suggests that a newborn child is nothing that an older woman can't handle.
SIRI NILSSON, ABC NEWS
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