The longer you wait to have a baby, the more risks you will face, the former Master of the Rotunda Hospital has warned.
Professor Sam Coulter-Smith was speaking after CSO figures revealed that the average of first-time mothers in Ireland is now 31.6 years.
That is two-and-a-half months older than last year and nearly two years (21.5 months) older than in 2011.
Meanwhile, the average age of all mothers is now 33.3 years – exactly three years older than it was in 2001.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Professor Coulter-Smith said he has seen a sharp increase in the age of first-time mums during his career.
“When I started, it was normal for women in their 20s to be having babies and now it has moved up to women in their 30s and the average age now would be early to mid-30s,” he said.
“We are even seeing women into their 40s and well into their 40s having babies now.”
He said the increase is likely due to a mix of social and financial factors – with women having greater control over their fertility, but also facing increased financial and career pressures.
He said couples deciding to put off starting a family need to know they will face increased risks as they get older.
“When you’re in your early 20s and you’re working out when you might like to start a family, some of those things don’t hit the radar at all – but it’s important for people to realise that, as you get older, the risks do increase.
“The miscarriage rate goes up a little bit, the fertility rate goes down a little bit, the risk of having a baby with a foetal anomaly goes up – although that doesn’t really start rising until you are into your 40s.”
He said women who struggle to stay fit and healthy as they get older as more likely to experience diabetes and thyroid disease and face complications in relation to preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
“When the complication rate goes up, the intervention rate goes up, the induction rate goes up and the caesarean section rate goes up,” he said.
“So, there is a significant knock-on effect of putting off having babies until later.”
He said communicating the risks can be really difficult – particularly with the issues facing young people in Ireland at the moment.
“I can absolutely get it for young couples,” he said. “The pressure is there to get the deposit together so they can move in together and then move on with their lives.
“The career thing for women is also huge. People are putting off having babies until they reach a certain point in their career and then when they do get pregnant the pressure is on.
“They have delayed this and they want it to happen now. It has to happen now; it has to happen a particular way and there are all sorts of pressures that go along with that.
“There are many factors that come into play here, so it is about getting the message out there that there are lots of different things to consider when you are deciding when to start a family.”
The CSO figures also show that, while the total number of births registered in 2021 was up on 2020, it was significantly lower than ten years ago.
There were just short of 58,500 births registered last year, down nearly one-quarter on the 74,650 registered in 2011.
You can listen back to Prof Coulter-Smith here: