Some women unaware of risks of delaying motherhood

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Many women may not be fully aware of the potential consequences of waiting until later in life to have a baby, a UK study suggests.

The study, of 724 women who were either pregnant or having trouble getting pregnant, found that nearly all were aware that age affects the chances of conceiving. However, they often did not know that older age increases the risk of certain pregnancy complications, and many had too much faith in the success of in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

The decision to delay childbirth is a complex and personal one, the researchers note in a report in the journal Fertility & Sterility.

The point, they say, is that women should be fully aware of all the possible benefits and risks of their decision.

“The results of this and other studies suggest that women should be provided with the appropriate information on the possible outcomes of a decision to delay motherhood,” write Dr. Abha Maheshwari and colleagues at the University of Aberdeen in England.

They analyzed questionnaire responses from 362 women getting prenatal care and 362 women seeking fertility counseling at the university medical center. The researchers found that 85 percent of women with fertility problems and 76 percent of pregnant women were aware that fertility declines between the ages of 30 and 40.

Most women in both groups were also aware that pregnancy complications become more common with age. Still, fewer than half in each group knew that age increases the risk of pregnancy-related diabetes and the need for a cesarean section. Only about one-fifth of each group knew that age boosts the chances of having twins.

When it came to IVF, Maheshwari’s team found that women tended to be overly optimistic about its success rates.

Only 53 percent of women with fertility problems knew that the chances of conceiving via IVF decline between the ages of 30 and 40. What’s more, 85 percent of them thought that fertility treatment can “overcome the effect of age.”

In reality, the researchers note, only 25 percent to 30 percent of women in their 20s and 30s give birth after IVF treatment. Among women older than 40, the success rate is closer to 10 percent.

Yet many people may not realize that IVF frequently fails, Maheshwari’s team writes — possibly because much of what they hear about IVF comes in the form of media stories on older women who have successfully conceived through fertility treatment.

“Many women are currently choosing to delay motherhood in the interests of personal and professional development,” the researchers write. “Although starting a family is a personal preference, free choices cannot be made without full knowledge of their consequences.”

SOURCE: Fertility & Sterility, October 2008.

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