Pregnancy blues worsen with age

By Jacqueline Maley
October 12, 2004

Older mothers are more anxious during their pregnancy and less likely to have the social support younger mothers enjoy, a study has found. But they are also less starry-eyed about parenthood, and will perhaps make better mothers for it.

Preliminary findings from a study of the psychological effects of pregnancy on older first-time mothers show that mature mothers fret more during their pregnancy than their younger counterparts.

But their anxiety is not necessarily pessimistic, just realistic, researchers say. It may mean they are more adaptive when it comes to the tough role of parenting.

"Being more mature and resilient and having more life experience might help women to cope with all the challenges that becoming a mother presents," said one of the study's authors, Dr Catherine McMahon.

The collaborative study, involving IVFAustralia and Macquarie University, followed 19 women aged 38 and over, and 32 women aged 35 and under, all of whom had become pregnant in the last six months using some form of assisted reproductive technology, usually IVF.

Dr McMahon, a psychologist at Macquarie University, said the findings also showed older mothers have fewer people on call for emotional and practical support than younger mothers. This may have been because their own parents were elderly, and their peers were in the workforce or had older children,

"What we don't know is if these concerns the older mothers are expressing are just because they are very aware of the issues," Dr McMahon said.

"One possibility is that older mothers are less inclined to idealise the whole thing, and more inclined to deal with the issues that lie ahead."

The study's findings were presented during a session yesterday at the annual conference of the Fertility Society of Australia in Adelaide.

Dr McMahon said the research group, which includes Dr Frances Gibson from Royal North Shore Hospital and Emeritus Professor Doug Saunders, chairman of research and development at IVFAustralia, will track the women for at least another year, to see how they cope after childbirth.