Genine Howard, 39, with husband Rowan and their baby boy Jack, 5 months.
Genine Howard, 39, with husband Rowan and their baby boy Jack, 5 months. Brett Wortman

Older and wiser: the new baby boomers

A SUNSHINE Coast obstetrician believes the rise of the middle-aged mother cannot be solely blamed for the rapid increase in the number of premature babies being born in Queensland.

Statistics show that the number of women aged 35 and older having babies has quadrupled in the past decade.

On the Sunshine Coast the oldest mother on record was aged 49 and 11 months.

The latest Australia's Mothers and Babies report by the Australian Government shows the average mum in 2010 was aged 30, compared with just over 29 in 2001.

Queensland Health peri-natal data released this week shows 8.2% of babies born in Australia in 2006 were preterm, with 6.4% weighing less than 2500 grams.

The senior medical officer at Nambour General Hospital's obstetrics and gynaecology department, Edward Weaver, said it was common for mothers to give birth later in life on the Coast.

"Older mothers represent a bigger part of our cases than it used to; ageing maternity is an increasing national phenomenon," Dr Weaver said.

"There is no question we are seeing more older mothers giving birth on the Coast because they are delaying having children for career reasons, they have not met the right person or they have remarried and want a second family.

Dr Weaver said that when he was in a private practice two years ago, for an entire month all the births were to women over 40.

In the past 12 months, 862 women over the age of 35 have given birth at Sunshine Coast hospitals.

"Premature babies might be associated with older mothers to a degree because they could have other health problems,'' Dr Weaver said.

"But a significant and often understated factor is that over half the women who give birth in Queensland are significantly overweight."

Between July, 2011, and June, 2012, at Sunshine Coast Private Hospital, 241 mothers were at least 35. The following year that number almost doubled to 425.

While the number of older mothers increased, the premature birth rate dropped from 32 to just six in the last 12 months.

Staff at Nambour hospital have helped 425 women aged at least 35 deliver babies in the past 12 months. In the year to June 30, 40 babies were born premature.

Genine Howard is loving motherhood at age 39. The career-driven woman says her life experience, fitness level and maturity have equipped her to raise five-month-old Jack.

"My husband Rowan and I have come to realise we are far better parents now,'' she said.

"Forty is the new 30.

"We are a lot wiser in terms of maturity and we have the life skills up our sleeve that we would not have had if we had children earlier."

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