Jackie Tomlinson on being an older mum
Jackie Tomlinson, of The Birth Sanctuary in Bolton, was 47 years old when she was surprised to find out she was pregnant. Here she discusses her experience along with some help and advice for anybody else looking to have a baby later on in life.
- ‘Older mums’ get a lot more scrutiny and much debate surrounds this as popularity soars for women having babies much later in life. Why do you think this is?
Older mums get a lot more scrutiny as it has been shown the average maternal age in the UK has risen in the last twenty years. Statistics show a rise of 8% to 20% for women 35yrs and over and it had trebled for women like myself 40yrs and over from about 1.2% to 3.6%. Professor Elizabeth Gray feels older mothers are far happier, I certainly am! I feel that some women think you should stick to having children whilst you’re younger but then they spend their time wishing and hoping for events to speed up so that they can at last get on with all the things they have been wishing to do for ages. They feel they have to rush through their early years so they can find someone to settle down and have a family with. Perhaps being more financially powerful, having a stronger family focus, achieved personal and career goals and greater self confidence is ‘galling’ for some people and we should follow suit with what younger mothers are doing.
- Can you tell me a bit about your experience being an older mum and how old were you when you became a mum? What was the pregnancy like? Were there any problems or did everything run smoothly? What is being an older mum like for you now?
My experience of finding I was pregnant at 47 was a feeling of shock and disbelief! I already had a beautiful mature daughter of 15 years old and here I was again pregnant at 47 and with a hectic job as a midwife as well! It took a while to sink in as I hadn’t registered the occasional feelings of nausea and small episodes of vomiting whilst working as a community midwife as anything at all. I did a lot of deep breathing in the car and carried on with my day. I did not have any periods for the 3 years before I was pregnant so you can see this was furthest from my mind! but I had put this down to my gall bladder and a sensitivity to dairy. How I laugh now at my ridiculous thoughts.
I did have a good pregnancy, albeit stress levels did rise when I felt jobs were not being completed fast enough around the house and also my levels of patience were extremely short especially when shopping. As a midwife I tended to analyse the pregnancy inside out. My son Neokai (my daughter Remi named him, meaning new energy, new king is a fine description of him) is the reason that I wanted to provide a midwifery and maternity service devoting all encompassing care for all women with no time restrictions. This is exactly the reason why we set up this wonderful service up (which has won 3 awards) with another midwifery colleague called The Birth Sanctuary. In having Neokai as an older mother I had renewed conviction, lots of energy and a direct determination to succeed. I can remember going to business meetings right at the very beginning of wanting to start a service like we have now and breastfeeding whilst thrashing out my ideas! I feel so much younger and Neo tells me I’m a great cook, and a fantastic and cool mummy!
My beautiful daughter Remi is pregnant and I will be nanny Jackie. My granddaughter is due this May.
- Are there any health risks having a baby later on? For mum or baby or both?
Yes there are some health risks in having a baby as an older mum. Firstly, the odds of having a baby with chromosomal problems increases as you get older, women are born with all the eggs they will ever have, so when a woman is 40 years old so are her eggs. Some researchers believe that errors can crop up in the eggs genetic material, as they age over time so older women are more at risk of giving birth to babies with chromosomal abnormalities such as downs syndrome than younger women.
Older women are twice as likely to experience conditions such as gestational diabetes which occurs only in pregnancy and at any stage, it is most common in the 2nd half of pregnancy. Gestational diabetes increases the chance of a baby growing big in the womb and this then increases the need for a caesarean section.
Other problems for the baby include hypoglycaemia (very low blood sugar), breathing problems, jaundice, seizures, risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, which occurs when the pancreas (a large gland behind the stomach) produces the hormone insulin which moves glucose from your blood into your cells where it is converted into energy. In type 2 diabetes the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. it had also been shown by a new study that babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes go on to develop Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by 6 years of age.
Older women also seem more at risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy pre/eclampsia, (high blood pressure (which I had), placenta praevia (low lying placenta), placental abruption, this is where the placenta comes away from the wall of the uterus (womb).
Other considerations are the birth itself as older women are more likely to have a caesarean section, your baby may be born prematurely, low birth weight or be in an awkward position at birth.
- What can mums do to lower any health risks (if any)?
Older mothers can lower health risks starting before pregnancy by having a preconceptual health check (we perform such health checks at the Birth Sanctuary, I will explain this in question 5) and by getting chronic problems such as diabetes under control, high blood sugar levels can cause birth defects during the first few weeks of pregnancy and often before women know that they are pregnant. Controlling blood sugar levels and taking a multivitamin with 40 micrograms of folic acid every day can help reduce this risk. High blood pressure, which presents as being uncontrollable, can lead to damage to the mother’s kidneys and increases the risk for low birth weight babies. So control by early medical intervention and regular antenatal checks commenced as soon as possible and throughout the rest of the pregnancy help to reduce the risks to mum and baby by ensuring an early diagnosis and correct treatment.
Lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumed in pregnancy passes directly to the baby through the umbilical cord it is recommended that women whatever age avoid alcohol when they are trying to get pregnant and in pregnancy as women who consume alcohol are more likely to have a miscarriage or stillbirth. Other risks to the baby include FASD which is the technical name for the group if fetal disorders that have been associated with drinking alcohol in pregnancy. It causes abnormal facial features, short stature and low body weight, hyperactivity disorder, intellectual disabilities and vision or hearing problems.
Cigarette smoking during pregnancy puts the baby at risk for preterm birth, certain birth defects and sudden infant death syndrome ( SIDS). Secondhand smoke also puts a woman and her developing baby at an increased risk for health problems. Obesity can make a pregnancy more difficult increasing a woman’s risk of developing diabetes which can contribute to difficult births. But on the other hand some women weigh too little for their own health and the health of their growing baby.
Although having a baby can put the older mother at an higher risk for complications, the majority of older mothers have healthy babies. Older mothers can focus on avoiding negative terminology, good nutrition and diet, good antenatal care and preparation both emotionally and financially for the woman’s baby and the care that will be needed.
- Do you have any advice for any women wanting to have a baby and are feeling nervous or worried because they’re older?
Preconceptual health care is the first place to start in an older mother, wanting a baby and at the same time eliminating as many of the worries as possible, older women and men benefit from becoming healthier before being sexually active. Preconceptual health care (this is offered as standard at The Birth Sanctuary) for both the woman and her partner and means the woman and her partner are health are checked before the woman becomes pregnant, for example some foods, habits and medicines can harm the baby even before the baby is conceived, About half of all pregnancies are not planned so babies are at greater risk for preterm birth and low birth weight experts agree that the older women does need to be healthy before pregnancy. Here at the Birth Sanctuary we offer a complimentary half hour consultation in our suite of comfortable offices to explore all requirements and wishes.
Five most important considerations for the older woman are to take a folic acid supplement every day to lower the risk of some defects of the brain and spine including spina bifida.
To stop smoking and drinking alcohol, to make sure medical conditions are under control, be it asthma, diabetes, oral health, obesity or epilepsy. I suggest that they talk to their doctor about any over the counter and prescription medicines being taken as well as herbal supplements and making sure vaccinations are up to date.
Avoiding contact with toxic substances or materials that could cause infection, whether at work or at home, and staying away from chemicals and cat faeces etc.
The older woman’s partner has an important role too! They can make the decision together and this provides added support. Screening for and treating sexually transmitted infections can help make sure that infections are not passed on to the older woman. Male partners can help improve their own reproductive health by limiting alcohol, stopping smoking or illegal drug use, making healthy food choices and reducing stress. Studies show that men who drink a lot, use drugs and smoke can have problems with their sperm. Also partners who work with chemicals or other toxins should be careful not to expose women to them, for example, people who work with fertilizers or pesticides should change out of dirty clothes before going near women, they should handle and wash clothes separately.
An older woman can choose a consultation with a genetics professional to discuss a genetic risk, diagnose, confirm or rule out a genetic condition. Here at the Birth Sanctuary we incorporate early pregnancy hypnotherapy to help reduce nervousness and anxiety.
- What are the pros and cons of having a baby when you’re older?
Editorial British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology says “where there are no tangible medical complications of pregnancy, the risks of childbirth in older women are no greater than in younger women.”
Some of the pros of having baby when you’re older are you having experienced so much more of the world around you,you’re less engaged in risky behaviour, the older woman feels more courageous and resilient and feels now is the time to focus less on your own needs and more on your child. An older mother is in a position to make wise parenting choices and are more patient and relaxed and live longer according to Dr Berryman. The journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that older women are more likely to have brighter and well behaved children as they have better nutrition and have a more established home life which seems to be more conducive to learning for your child.
The follicle stimulating hormones in an assisted conception increases your chance of having more than one baby and as you approach the menopause your ovaries work harder at releasing an egg from the ovaries. This can result in 2 eggs being released at the time of ovulation the 2 eggs can be fertilised and then implant in the uterus resulting in non-identical twins.
There is also the sense of being emotionally and financially secure with a established higher income and better able to negotiate a return to work.
Cons are highlighted in q3.
- There is so much emphasis on older mums that people and the media tend to overlook older dads. Does having babies later on affect their physical or mental health? Where can they get help from?
We at the Birth Sanctuary offer pregMANcy classes which are specifically for dads, in small groups or one to one, where they are better able to express exactly how they are feeling and where they can get better understanding.They go through a multitude of complex changes and do need exclusive time and understanding just for them. They sometimes feel petrified, but try not to reveal this to their partners. We feel that Professor Mary Nolan’s (Professor of Perinatal Education) approach in Preparation for Birth and Beyond – we were the only two midwives from the North West who attended the very first prestigious course, to be the most shining example of understanding of helping prepare fathers and partners for their transition of fatherhood in their mental health and well being.
Our PregMANcy classes here at the Birth Sanctuary help fathers and partners to be involved with important decisions about the pregnancy, birth and baby care we offer flexible times day, evenings, weekends and home visits. There has been a step in the right direction as the Employment Minister Jo Swinson announced October 2014 that fathers and partners now have the right to take unpaid time off to accompany expectant mothers to up to 2 antenatal appointments and this is seen as a major development in encouraging fathers and partners early involvement with their children. Shared parental leave and pay comes into effect for babies due on or after the 5th of April 2015 and the same for adoptions. So working couples will be able to share maternity leave and pay after the first 2 weeks of the postnatal period, in effect up to 50 weeks leave and 37 weeks pay can be shared.
We feel here at The Birth Sanctuary that dads feel better amongst other dad’s in discussing with humour their increased responsibilities, expense of having children, change in lifestyle, changed relationships with their partner, lack of sleep and the increase workload makes them feel they now have strategies of coping better and being more confident. On another note, at the Birth Sanctuary, our PregMANcy dads have a diary to record some aspects of their partners labour to relay back to their partners whenever they wish this has helped dads enormously keeping a little busy with something else to focus on and provide warmth, humour and a different perspective after birth.
- What services do The Birth Sanctuary provide to help older mums and dads with advice and support or anything else they feel they need?
What service does The Birth Sanctuary provide? Well we feel very passionately that mothers and their partners deserve care which meets their ideals and which is provided in a calm, efficient and respectful manner by highly qualified midwives and experienced healthcare professionals. We provide one to one attentive and experienced midwifery support throughout your pregnancy journey.
We offer a full range of services designed to either replace or compliment your NHS care. We offer a full pregnancy package (including all bloods, scans, antenatal and postnatal care with 24/7 access to your midwife). We specialise in home and water births and we offer a doula (Greek word meaning ‘woman servant’ or caregiver) to be with you in labour, this can also be In pregnancy and after birth to help support the mother, partner and family at home. Our postnatal package includes as many home visits as you need.
We offer parent education, aquanatal (exercises in water for pregnancy) pregMANcy classes for dads only (dad’s parent education classes), grandparent education classes, hypnobirthing (relaxation, self hypnosis and better breathing techniques for a better birth) and much more.
Our aim here at the Birth Sanctuary is to make your pregnancy and birth journey a wonderfully positive and memorable experience. We tailor make care packages which are individual to our mothers whether planning to become pregnant, having difficulty conceiving or are currently pregnant we can help.
We are registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and are fully insured, we are authorised Stem Cell collection agents and can also arrange school, colleges and workplace health awareness and midwifery teaching sessions as well as newborn resuscitation sessions (to provide you with essential skills).
This was a collaborative post.