Northern Ireland maternity units under pressure due to increase in number of older mums
Record numbers of births to older mums are putting Northern Ireland's maternity units under pressure, a new report has found.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says the number of babies born in the province to women aged in their 30s and 40s continues to "rise steadily".
The RCM's State of Maternity Services Report reveals that in the 10 years to 2017, the number of babies born here to women aged 30 or older has risen by 8.5%.
In 2017, a clear majority (57.5%) of babies were born to older women and the remainder (42.5%) to younger women.
In the past decade, the number of babies born to women aged 30 or older increased by 1,043, while there was a drop of 2,419 in births to younger women.
Meanwhile, in the five years to March 2018, there have also been changes in the age profile of Northern Ireland's midwives.
The number of midwives aged in their 20s and 30s grew by 9.3% and 1.4% respectively.
There were 63 fewer in their 40s and 68 less in their 50s, while the number aged 60 or older grew by 32.
The RCM has warned that the current situation needs to be actively managed, with new midwives being brought into the profession in good time before increasing numbers retire. The RCM's Director for Northern Ireland, Karen Murray, said: "Births to older mothers continue to rise not only in Northern Ireland, but right across the UK and becoming a mother later in life is nothing new.
"It is not just the age profile of mothers that presents a challenge. The age profile of midwives does too," she added.
"Midwives in older age categories have given many years' service to our maternity services and bring a wealth of experience to their roles. They are essential to supporting new midwives coming in and establishing themselves in the profession."
BBC Radio Ulster presenter Kerry McLean (43) became an older mum three years ago when her baby daughter Eve was born.
But she encountered the unfortunate label used for any mother-to-be over 35 in the eyes of the medical profession.
"I was so shocked and horrified the first time I opened my green maternity folder and spotted two words written in capital letters at the top of the page - geriatric mother," she said.
"Medics definitely need to rethink the language they use about older mums, because I was terrified most of the way through my pregnancy.
"Everything I read mentioned about all the things that could go wrong for me and my baby.
"There was nothing to say that actually, there's a good chance of everything going well to give older mums that bit of extra hope."
She added: "I have a friend about to have her second child aged 46 and she's also finding it hard to enjoy her pregnancy, because she's so nervous."
The mother-of-three is not surprised that Northern Ireland women are waiting longer to have children, but believes that older mums are often in a more stable place in their life.
"Women are keen to get their lives in order before they have children and many want to focus on their careers first.
"Another huge factor is that people now are meeting their other half much later in life.
"Thinking back to my parents, they got together in their late teens when just out of school.
"That's very rare these days and many people now aren't so fortunate. It means that everything in life moves on about ten years."
Kerry added: "We're not the first generation to have babies later in life. Just after the Second World War women either had to wait for their husbands to return home or only met them at that point.
"We haven't had the numbers of older mums at this level for a long time and yet it seems to be the way things will be in the future."