Older mothers take a bow: study finds your children get better start

HELEN PERKS has heard all the negatives about being an older mother. But she isn't buying them.

''Some people say you're going to be old and exhausted, but it works in the opposite way,'' said Ms Perks, a web designer who had her first child, Max, when she was 40, and her second, Eva, when she was 43.

''In fact, it encourages you. You think, ''Well, I'm going to be older when I have my kids, so I have to keep myself healthy'.''

According to a major study, the children of older mothers are getting a better start in life in a variety of ways.

The British study said children born to women over 40 benefited from improved health and language development up to the age of five. It also found increasing maternal age was associated with children having fewer hospital admissions and accidents, a higher likelihood of having their immunisations by the time they were nine months old and fewer social and emotional difficulties.

Older mothers tend to be more educated, have higher incomes and be married - all factors associated with greater child wellbeing, said the study from University College London's Institute of Child Health, which looked at data covering more than 78,000 children, and was published in the British Medical Journal.

In Australia, 4 per cent of the almost 300,000 women who gave birth in 2009 were aged 40-plus. Gino Pecoraro, a spokesman for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said older mothers tended to be more established, educated, mature and financially settled, helping with language development and the potentially improved supervision of children.

''At least, for a change, the headlines are pointing out something good about being older as it is usually all so dismal,'' said Hannah Dahlen, the associate professor of midwifery at the University of Western Sydney and national spokeswoman for the Australian College of Midwives.

Ms Dahlen gave birth to her daughter a few weeks before her 40th birthday.

''It is well known that this phenomenon exists with children born to older mothers but most of the association is due to higher education and social advantage,'' she said.

''The higher educated a mother in particular is the more financially stable she is and the more likely you will see children with better linguistic skills.''

Ms Perks said she was a more grounded person in her 40s than earlier in her life.

The story Older mothers take a bow: study finds your children get better start first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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