Children of mothers over 40 'are healthier and more intelligent and less likely to have accidents'
00:26 GMT, 22 May 2012
They might be harder to catch – and no doubt leave their mothers more exhausted – but children born to mums over 40 are healthier and brighter than those of younger women.
The offspring of older women are less likely to have accidents or need hospital care and more likely to have been vaccinated early, a study found.
They will also develop a broader vocabulary from a young age and achieve higher scores in IQ tests in a range of measures up to the age of five.
The research is good news for the rising numbers of mothers who are giving birth at an older age
The research, to be presented today at The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health conference in Glasgow, is a rare piece of good news for the rising number of women who are delaying motherhood.
Previous studies have highlighted the growing infertility rates for older women and the greater risk of them developing diabetes and pre-eclampsia.
But the latest research appears to show gains for older mothers once they have given birth, possibly due to their greater experience and maturity.
The number of mothers who gave birth over the age of 40 increased from 15,000 in 2000 to 27,000 in 2010.
Researchers at the Institute of Child Health, University College London and Birkbeck College, London, said their findings showed older mothers can make better parents.
Dr Alastair Sutcliffe, who worked on the study, said negative publicity surrounding the rise of older mothers was based on the physical risks of pregnancy and childbirth.
Older mothers such as Halle Berry, seen here with her daughter Nahla, have healthier and brighter children, a new study has found
He said: ‘We have clear evidence that there are more desirable outcomes for children of older mothers compared with younger ages. We can reassure these older women that their children are probably better off.’
The Wellcome Foundation-funded study looked at 1,100 children born to women aged 40 and over, compared with 38,000 children born to younger women in Britain. The children’s ages ranged from nine months to five years.
Children of older mothers were less likely to be in accidents or need hospital admission, and were no more at risk of obesity.
Dr Sutcliffe said older mothers might be more risk-averse, possibly because they were less active and unable to run after their children, but they may also be better at spotting and avoiding potentially risky situations.
The research also checked a number of outcomes linked to parenting skills, including naming vocabulary, picture and shapes identification and developmental IQ using established British assessment scales.
The findings showed greater ability among children born to older mothers once social class was taken into account.
Previous research found three times more children born to older mothers got five GCSEs compared with those born to younger women.
Dr Sutcliffe said: ‘We found a continuum which showed a link between the older ages of mothers and better outcomes. It was the effect of age per se.
‘The big question is why. Older mothers appear to have good parenting skills, they may be less impulsive, calmer and have more life experience that better equips them for the role. More women are giving birth at older ages, this isn’t going to go away, they are deferring motherhood for many reasons.
‘The evidence suggests that when the enormous difficulties of pregnancy and birth are over, they can make better mothers,’ he added.