Older mothers who give birth for the first time in their late 30s and early 40s cope just as well with the physical demands of pregnancy as younger women but are more anxious about the wellbeing of their babies, research has found.
A study of 620 Australian mothers aged in their 20s to 40s found that despite a higher risk of complications for older mothers, women 37 and older remained as healthy in pregnancy as younger women.
The lead researcher, psychologist Dr Catherine McMahon of Macquarie University, said age had no bearing on mothers' moods and typical problems, such as nausea and back pain.
"Generally it has been thought that older mums may not cope with the physical demands of pregnancy as well as younger mums, or they may be very anxious or find it difficult to cope with lifestyle changes," Dr McMahon said. Despite some differences, "older mums were generally adjusting well".
However, the research found older mothers were more anxious about the wellbeing of their unborn babies, "about the outcome, about the birth and about the baby. They were aware that complications are more common as maternal age increases," she said.
Despite a higher risk of complications for older mothers, women 37 and older remained as healthy in pregnancy as younger women.
"We also found that younger mothers were more positive about changes to their bodies - They were the only two differences found in relation to age."
Dr McMahon said the research, which follows women from the third trimester until the babies are four months old, found those who had experienced infertility or conceived by IVF were extremely positive about pregnancy, but concerned about the outcome, regardless of age. She said the results were encouraging for mothers who conceived in their late 30s and 40s.
The research, conducted in collaboration with the University of Melbourne, was presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference held in Amsterdam last week.
According to a Federal Government report, the average age of Australian mothers rose from 28.7 in 1997 to 29.8 in 2006.
The researchers are still monitoring mothers until babies are four months old. They will report more findings next year.