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Life Goes on for Fiftysomething Mothers

This is the latest installment in a series of studies of women over 50 pioneered by professor Richard Paulson.

Mothers who give birth after the age of 50 do not have reduced parenting capacity compared to younger mothers, a study led by the University of North Carolina’s Anne Z. Steiner and USC’s Richard Paulson has concluded.

Steiner, an assistant professor in the UNC School of Medicine’s department of obstetrics and gynecology, will present the findings Oct. 24 at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in New Orleans. The study is believed to be the first to evaluate parenting in women who conceive after age 50.

This is the latest installment in a series of studies of women over 50 pioneered by Paulson, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and chief of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

“Thirteen years ago the question was, is it possible for women of this age to have children? The answer was ‘yes,’ ” Paulson said. “The next question was, were the obstetrical outcomes good? The answer to that was also ‘yes.’ Now that this procedure has been going on long enough, we felt we had an opportunity to ask the question, how are these older mothers coping with parenthood? And the results are very reassuring.”

In the study, conducted while Steiner was at USC, 49 women who conceived and delivered after the age of 50 with the help of USC’s assisted reproductive technology program were matched to women in their 40s and 30s who also conceived with the program’s help. Of these women, 129 were mailed questionnaires on parenting stress and physical and mental well-being.

Fifty percent of the women returned completed questionnaires. Their self-reported results showed that the women in their 50s had slightly lower physical functioning scores than the younger women, but the older women had higher mental functioning scores. There was no significant difference between the older and younger women in terms of overall parenting stress.

“We must remember this group does not represent the average 50- to 55-year-old,” Paulson said. “They are healthier, self-selected, vigorous and they are adapting very well to the stresses of parenting.”

Steiner and co-author Paulson concluded that their study does not support the hypothesis that mothers who conceive and give birth after age 50 have reduced parenting capacity compared to mothers in their 40s and 30s.