When it comes to changing diapers, breastfeeding and swaddling, 40 is the new 30.
A recent national report found birth rates falling in virtually every age group of women in their childbearing years — except for those between 40 and 50. The group aged 40 to 44 had its largest birth rate since 1967.
Benefiting from improvements in reproductive technology and the fact that most Americans are living longer, more women 40 and over are choosing to have children in later life, particularly after they've accomplished career goals.
That means that as the nation celebrates Mother's Day, over-40 moms are still scheduling visits with the pediatrician while some their age have become grandmothers. Yet several local over-40 moms said they'd have it no other way; the births come when they're more settled, selfless and focused on family.
"I had a very successful career, I did a lot of traveling and I really don't have a lot on my list of things that I haven't done," said Katherine Lally of Pikesville, 42, whose son Emmett will be 2 in July. She also has a 5-year-old daughter, Astrid.
"My take is that we bring our life experiences to mothering. By being an older mom I can bring everything I've learned from my studies, travel, work and life into it," Lally added. "That may be why the trend is towards delaying motherhood — the ability to wait until it's the right time for your family to begin."
The 2008 birth rate report, based on preliminary data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, found that the birth rate for women in the U.S. aged 40–44 increased 4 percent from the previous year, to 9.9 births per 1,000 women. That was the highest birth rate since 1967, when it was 10.6. The rate for women 45-54 increased from 0.6 in 2007 to 0.7 in 2008.
The report said that in 2008 there were 106,090 births to women ages 40-44. In 1990, there were 48,607 births to that age group.
Brady Hamilton, a statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics and one of the authors of the report, said that during the sluggish economy younger women often delay pregnancy, something that older women cannot do.
Though the overall number of births to women 40 and over are still smaller than those of younger groups, the steady increase reflects marked improvements in life expectancy and improvements to prenatal care, experts say.
Data from the Cleveland Clinic shows that the risk of miscarriage is about 40 percent for women at 40, compared to 15 percent for women in their 20s.
At age 40, there is also a greater likelihood of giving birth prematurely or to a baby with low birth weight. The likelihood of Down Syndrome is ten times higher for a baby born to a 40-year-old woman than one who is 20. There is also a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy, in which an embryo implants outside the uterus, sometimes in a Fallopian tube. Hypertension and gestational diabetes are diagnosed more frequently in pregnant women over age 35.
Dr. May H. Blanchard, chief of the division of general obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said that with better technology to diagnose abnormalities earlier and monitor pregnant women more closely, some of the risks are tempered.
"I will say that for women who are of normal body weight and have no other complicating factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic illnesses, once we've done initial genetic screening and ruled out any chromosomal abnormalities, the risks shouldn't be that much more than someone five years younger," Blanchard said.
Being told of possible abnormalities can be stressful in itself, but Lally said that for older women it comes with the territory.
"A younger parent doesn't know going in that during pregnancy you're going to have some unexpected avenues and things happen, but when you are an older mom you have that presented to you as a possibility," said Lally, who said she had "an easy birth" with Emmett.
Lisa Karmel, 45, of Bel Air, knows what it's like to bear children at different stages of life. Married three times, she was 19 when she gave birth to her first child, Billy Lamana. She was 34 when her daughter Delaney Jennings was born.
She gave birth to her third child, Juliette, two months ago.
"My husband and I were married August, 2008, and we talked about adding to our blended family, and what a new baby would bring to our lives," said Karmel, who also has a stepdaughter, Naomi Karmel, 9. "We decided that we were ready and we wanted another child together. We conceived without any in-vitro assistance, and we see it as meant to be."
Karmel added that of her three pregnancies, she felt most comfortable with her last.
"As you age you learn to roll with the punches, and I found that I wasn't taking anything for granted," she added. "I feel fortunate that we were able to have a baby and have it go so well."