Complications of having baby late

A teenage mother with her baby son. While it is a personal choice, getting pregnant at an older age comes with more risks.
A teenage mother with her baby son. While it is a personal choice, getting pregnant at an older age comes with more risks.PHOTO: ST FILE

Mr Eric Yeo got married in 2004, but it was only eight years later - at the age of 38 - that his first child arrived.

The administrative manager and his wife, now 42 and 40 respectively, had wanted some "personal space" and time to travel on their own. So they put off plans to have children for about four years before deciding they were ready. But they did not expect the challenges to come.

His wife, also an administrative manager, had a miscarriage and it took them another three to four years to successfully conceive.

"She was prescribed medicine to improve fertility... It had side effects, she had mood swings and other discomforts," he said. "It was painful to watch her go through all that."

The couple also tried traditional Chinese medicine to boost their immunity and contemplated in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).

 

They had a happy ending - a son turning four this month and a daughter who will be two years old next February.

"I had not anticipated that I'd start a family so late - my parents had me when they were 24," said Mr Yeo. "In my wishful thinking, I would have started a family earlier - we are not that young and it can be sometimes exhausting to care for two young children."

Gynaecologists have seen more couples like Mr Yeo and his wife who start trying for children in their mid-30s.

While it is a personal choice, getting pregnant at an older age comes with more risks of health complications for both women and their babies, they said.

Dr Christopher Chong, obstetrician and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital, said: "The quality of a female egg worsens from the age of 25. The decline gets steeper from age 35 and very steep from age 40.

"The older the women are, the more likely that they will have medical problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes, which can lead to fertility issues. For instance, the risks of foetal abnormalities increase with age, and the embryo may not be formed at all because of this abnormal egg."

IVF and other fertility treatment methods are also not miracle cures and their effectiveness decreases with the woman's age, said doctors.

For instance, the IVF success rate is less than 50 per cent, regardless of age, said Dr Chong. "So don't wait too long to start trying for a baby, because you never know if you will really succeed in conceiving. You don't know if you are fertile.

"I've seen older couples who wished that they had tried for a baby earlier, so they had more time to play around with."

Amelia Teng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 16, 2016, with the headline 'Complications of having baby late'. Print Edition | Subscribe