Fertility experts have called for an urgent public debate on the trend for women to delay motherhood because many of them still do not understand how rapidly fertility declines after the age of 35.
The chairman of the IVF Directors Group and member of the Fertility Society of Australia, Michael Chapman, said pleas to the Federal Government to fund a public health campaign about the increased risks of miscarriage and pregnancy complications for older mothers and defects in their babies had fallen on deaf ears.
Biologically, the optimum period for childbearing is between ages 20 and 35.
This week the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in Britain published a statement on reproductive ageing, reaffirming that biologically, the optimum period for childbearing is between ages 20 and 35.
The report's author, Mandish Dhanjal, a consultant obstetrician, said the example of celebrity older mothers such as Nicole Kidman (41), Madonna (43) and Holly Hunter (47), gave women the wrong impression about the ease of motherhood at an older age.
Dr Chapman added it was "frustrating because one thing that is not revealed in magazine articles is many of these celebrities are not using their own eggs, but a donor egg".
A national survey of 2400 people by the Fertility Society of Australia in 2006 found 51 per cent of childless women aged 30 to 49 thought they could still conceive whenever they wanted to.
The president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Ted Weaver, said there was a misconception that assisted reproductive technology was a fail-safe back-up plan because success rates drop significantly with age.
Figures show that the live birth rate for women under 35 undergoing IVF is 31 per cent. This falls below 5 per cent for women over 42.
"The lack of health literacy in women of reproductive age is a serious issue for this country," he said.
As a trainee obstetrician and gynaecologist, Jane Woolcock has seen first-hand the difficulties older women experience when trying to conceive.
Although she is six years into a gruelling post-graduate training program, she decided to defer her fellowship for six months to have her son Harry.
Dr Woolcock, 31, decided she was not willing to miss her most fertile years because of her career choice, but says the balance of work, study and family will be a challenge, especially when she returns to work next month.
"In obstetrics you know the risks," she said.
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