Forget teenage pregnancy – it’s the middle-aged mums we should be targeting

Teenage mums get a bum deal don’t they? If you listen to The Daily Mail, teenage pregnancy is the root of all evil, costing the economy millions in benefits and bringing about the downfall of society. Generally, teenage pregnancy is felt to be a Bad Thing.

But is it?

Being a teenage mum is subject to a massive amount of stereotyping, but is it really the young mums who are costing us all the cash?

Having children when you’re young is perfectly natural. You body is better equipped generally to cope with pregnancy at a younger age, and recovers more quickly too. Postponing childbirth into your thirties and even forties is a very modern phenomena, and one, it could be argued, that has more serious implications health wise, for both mother and baby, than teenage pregnancy will ever have.

Studies have shown than pregnant women under 18:

  • Are more likely to have a normal vaginal delivery
  • Have lower rates of maternal and perinatal morbidity

Pregnant mums over 35 however have an increased risk of:

  • Gestational diabetes and hypertension
  • Placenta previa
  • Low birth weight
  • Prematurity

If you are having a baby and you are over 35, your risk of miscarriage doubles, and your baby has a 1 in 400 chance of Downs Syndrome.

All of these complications have a cost, both financial and physical. Keeping a premature baby in special care for example costs over £1,000 a day, and that’s a lot of housing benefit…

Is it really OK for older mums to pass judgement on teenagers, when their pregnancies are not only risking the health of their babies, but also costing us thousands of pounds in additional health care?

Dr Susan Bewley, of Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London, agrees that middle-aged mums are putting a huge strain on the NHS as they are more likely to face problems conceiving, suffer pregnancy complications and have premature babies.

Dr Bewley told the Sunday Times: “Middle-age pregnancy is a public health problem because women en masse are moving out of childbearing and that brings preventable disease and stress with it. Middle-age pregnancy has complications in the same way as teenage pregnancy. We have policies to address teenage pregnancy but not middle-age pregnancy.”

Suddenly teenage pregnancy doesn’t look like such a bad option.



  1. Nicky Richards
    26 June, 2012 / 8:51 am

    This is great!

  2. 26 June, 2012 / 9:12 am

    Are we talking about middle-age versus teenage pregnancy being a bad thing in terms of cost just to the Health Service, or to society in general?

    If the former, yes, I can definitely see how the increased health risks associated with middle-aged pregnancy might outweigh those of teenagers and cost the Health Service more.

    If the latter, there must surely be no comparison? Middle-aged pregnancies are, on the whole, planned-for events by would-be parents in steady relationships, with a roof over their heads and better financial security, thus requiring less support from society.

    Of course, there are many responsible teenage parents who do a great job of bringing up their children, but if any judgment is being passed, it’s on the ones who don’t wait until they reach that level of responsibility and financial security before starting a family.

  3. rinsimpson
    26 June, 2012 / 9:30 am

    All I can think about now is that I’ve got 2 1/2 years to have a baby or my chance of miscarrying doubles…! Yikes.

  4. C L H
    26 June, 2012 / 9:39 am

    Is it really “middle aged mothers” who are passing judgement on teenage parents? In my experience, it’s older, more traditional men who are most scathing – women are often more supportive of other women, especially in relation to childbirth.

    Also, it’s not just mothers who are responsible for this phenonemon of older pregnancy! For many women, having children before their thirties is not an option – many younger men (and yes, I know I’m stereotyping a bit here) are not ready to “settle down” and become responsible – what’s seen as desirable is a long period of messing around and delaying responsibility for as long as possible (this does apply to some women too, I realise) – this means that, even if a woman would like to have a child at a younger, she may not be able to find a willing and supportive partner. Add to this the pressure of trying to start a career / earn enough money to support themselves, and having a child before the mid-thirties doesn’t seem viable at all to many.

  5. SJT
    26 June, 2012 / 10:36 am

    Since when did age 35 become middle aged???

  6. 26 June, 2012 / 10:39 am

    I agree with Mandy Cochrane – motherhood is not just about “physical” preparedness/ability it’s more the emotional side of it- and let’s face it- it’s not easy- full stop! I don’t think teenage pregnancy is an “option” per se- in a lot of cases it happens unintentionally (although not all of course!). My mother-in-law had my partner when she was 17 and has harboured a lot of regret at the feeling of her having “missed out” on other things in her life but then on the other hand my Nan had my Dad at 19 (different generation of course) and this was very much a choice. I would prefer my daughter to wait until her twenties if at all possible before having children because a lot of emotional development happens in your late teens/twenties. I had my daughter at 27 and physically it was v easy to conceive, pretty text book pregnancy but we kind of still went into it with our eyes shut – even at that age- and parenthood was a real shock to the system even with a seeming lifetime of experience prior to that. I had my son at 33 but had 2 miscarriages beforehand and it took a lot more planning from a health viewpoint to plan for a healthy pregnancy. I am glad I started late twenties because I still feel like quite a young mum compared to some of my peers who started well into their thirties but equally I had the opportunity to live a selfish life beforehand and have no regrets about experiences missed- I studied, travelled a lot, forged a career for myself and THEN went about bringing children into the world. It is very difficult to generalise about either teen pregnancies or older mums because people’s circumstances are sooo different and there are shining examples of both types of mum. My sister, for example, had 7 or 8 rounds of IVF before having her first child in her mid-thirties- she would have loved babies earlier but it wasn’t to be. She’s a fab, devoted mum and is now pregnant at 40 with her 3rd. She would be the first to admit it’s not ideal- she didnt want to be an “old” mum but this is the hand that fate dealt her. Equally in your experience Jo, having your first daughter in your teens, this all worked out well for you too so it’s very much about individuals….

  7. allotmentmum
    26 June, 2012 / 5:05 pm

    I’m expecting my third baby and will be 39 when its born. My risk of Downs (according to the combined blood test and nuchal folds test) is 1 in 1500. As a so-called ‘middle-aged’ mum I am far more health conscious and live a much healthier lifestyle than I did in my teens. I am sure the same can be said of many other older mums – we know the risks so we work harder to counteract them.

  8. SJT
    26 June, 2012 / 5:10 pm

    I was 31 when pregnant with my first baby, and the downs syndrome test revealed a risk of 1:250. Three years later with my second, the test revealed a risk of 1:5000. Go figure.

  9. 26 June, 2012 / 6:18 pm

    The thing is, if all social stuff was equal (same partner, same income, same level of well-being, same social support etc!) then you are better off being a pregnant 18 year old than a pregnant 38 year old! The stats show those who become mums at a young age are less likely to have the same level of social stuff, but it not AGE that is the problem! We are having a LIVE young mums chat on twitter tomorrow eve (27th June, 8.30pm). Follow #youngmumschat to hear about what it’s really like to be a young mum!

  10. 26 June, 2012 / 6:28 pm

    Maybe Dr Susan bewley is a bitter middled aged women who no wanted to get pregnant

  11. 27 June, 2012 / 10:45 am

    i have two children one I had at 21 who was 7 weeks prem and required medical assistance the other I had at 36 which was a perfectly normal pregnancy and bitrh and has had no problems resulting from my age, statistics are all very well except you can make them prove whatever you wish by picking the right ones to look at. I do not have a problem with teenage mums as such after all things happen and help should be there for those who need it what does worry me are the girls who have no ambitions in life and think having a child is a fashion accessory and a way to a free home. I work in a supermarket the other week I had three girls come to the till together each buying a pregnancy test these girls were 16/17 and were actually discussing how they all planned to get pregnant together. To me that is the real shame that there are girls who think that having babies is almost a career and do not believe they could be so much more before deciding to be a parent

  12. Mooer
    27 June, 2012 / 11:01 am

    I had my first baby at 19, and my second at 22. People are often suprised to hear that I birthed both my babies at home, both births were easy with no intervention. I breastfed my first daughter until she was nearly 2, and I continue to breastfeed my second who is 6 months. Motherhood has come easily to me – I don’t get tired or stressed with my children (this is partly being young and partly my personality) – I have enjoyed each part of the journey thoroughly. I can cope fine on a few hours sleep, and I’ve breezed through challenges like toddler tantrums with a laid back attachment theorist approach.
    I have no regrets. I don’t miss life before my children, when I had my children my life began. Bringing these two wonderful beings into the world has inspired my career in early years education. I have ‘older’ mum friends (in their late 30s and 40s) who tell me they struggle with tiredness, and who tell me that they have found it harder to step down and ‘just be’ with their children. They readily tell me this is because they are older.
    Often young mums aren’t emotionally ready, but many of us are, and many older mums aren’t! So perhaps it has something to do with age, but age isnt everything – health, fitness and lifestyle can vary hugely regardless of age.
    In my personal experience through work and through what I hear from the younger and older women I talk to, starting a family later can make the arrival of a baby more of a shock, and there are higher instances of post natal depression etc.

  13. 28 June, 2012 / 10:57 am

    … to say nothing of the ability to cope with sleepless nights or bounce back from bouts of baby-spread viruses. The same could be said about teenage dads. As an ancient example of the breed I know my resilience is lowered with every tantrum and each bout of the terrible twos I have to take in.

  14. 28 June, 2012 / 3:57 pm

    Thanks everyone for all the really thoughtful comments – as I suspected, it’s a pretty contentious subject!

    Obviously there are always going to be exceptions to the rule, so women who have trouble free pregnancies at 40, and prem babies at 18, but generally the fact remains that on average, the risks are higher for older women.

    I think Prymface really summed up nicely the point I was trying to make, that actually AGE isn’t the issue when it comes to demonising teenage pregnancy – yes, there may well be a lot of social and economic circumstances that mean having a baby isn’t a great idea, or is more difficult, but it’s not the age itself that is the issue.

    • Amy Treasure
      31 January, 2014 / 2:04 pm

      I was a teenage mother and am also a mother approaching so-called middle age. It’s an awful thing that teenage mothers are demonised, as you put it. Frankly I wouldn’t want my now teenage daughter becoming a mother herself for a long time. There might be increased health risks with being an older mum but I don’t think the two make a fair comparison. You may as well say the same about overweight mums or drug users. Fact is it’s just not ideal becoming a teenage mother and it certainly isn’t something we want to promote to our daughters.

  15. 29 June, 2012 / 9:35 am

    I’m 43 and have a six week old baby whose chance of Downs Syndrome was 1:650, not 1:400. Going by age alone, it was a lot lower than that but after other factors and a blood test were added into the equation, the odds were more favourable. I had my first child when I was 32 and had all sorts of complications which required hospital attention. This time? Nothing. In and out no bother.

    I don’t think you can generalise on these things really. For every teenage mum who strains the NHS and is just a generally crap mother, there will be an older mum like me who is the same. Each case is different.

  16. 24 February, 2013 / 4:43 pm

    I don’t think anyone should have to deal with flack for being pregnant whether a teen or middle aged woman. I don’t think middle aged women have it so easy. I am middle aged and pregnant and get a lot of nasty comments from women my age and people in general. I have to deal with constant monitoring and suggested tests that insurance doesn’t cover even though my pregnancy has been normal and uneventful. When I decline testing I think is excessive and unnecessary, the doctors get annoyed and try to push the tests on me harder. I didn’t have to deal with this in my earlier pregnancies. Not everyone’s life is a perfect fairy tale with marrying their childhood sweetheart and having their two children in their 20’s. People should respect all mothers who are good parents regardless of their age or financial status or marital status. It is OK that not everyone has the same lifestyle as you.

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