New Zealand Independent Newspapers

Heightened risks with late motherhood

New Zealand Independent Newspapers

New Zealand women are being warned they may be leaving motherhood too late as the country's birth rate continues to drop and the average age of first-time mothers rises.

Birth statistics for the year ended September show there were 54,000 live births in New Zealand, 3 per cent fewer than in 2001 (55,900).

The median age of women giving birth is now 30.1 years, compared with 28.1 in 1992 and 24.9 in the early 1970s.

Statistics New Zealand statistician Brian Pink said the drop in births was "largely due to a decrease in the number of women in prime childbearing ages and partly because fewer of these women are having children".

In Christchurch, the average age of women waiting for IVF treatment is 35.

Christchurch Fertility Centre medical director Peter Benny said most of the women had been trying to get pregnant for two years or longer.

"There is a continuing decline in fertility from 25 onwards," he said.

"We spend our lives avoiding pregnancy and teaching women to get a career and get their lives sorted out before they have a baby. People take a chance for lots of different reasons.

"If you start trying to conceive around 30 the majority of women will get pregnant, but there is an increased risk you will have difficulty."

The Government does not fund IVF treatment for women who are overweight, underweight, smoke or are over 40.

Dr Benny said there was only a 20 per cent chance of conception with IVF after the age of 40.

"There is also an increased chance of miscarriage and chromosome abnormalities," he said.

"Some people believe we can treat everything because that is what the women's magazines lead you to believe."

A low birth rate across the Tasman has sparked calls from the Fertility Society of Australia to teach high school girls about the risk of delaying motherhood after the age of 35.

A study this year by Griffith University in Brisbane found that 82 per cent of women were prepared to delay having their first child until they were 35 or older, with a third ready to wait until they were older than 40.