Age of new mothers rises sharply - along with obesity rate
A major study of nearly 70,000 expectant mothers in the decade since the economic crash has seen unprecedented rates of obesity and the age of first-time mums sharply rising as women prioritise careers over motherhood.
One of the country's biggest maternity hospitals has found obesity has shot up nearly 20pc since the recession.
The ground-breaking study of 68,000 mothers-to-be at the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital in Dublin from 2010 to 2017 found the number of first-time mothers under the age of 30 fell from 40pc in 2010 to 28pc in 2017.
Professor Michael Turner, director of the UCD Centre for Human Reproduction at the Coombe, said it was a "major social change in a decade".
"In a historical context, in the 19th century women were having their first baby at 22 on average, and now in the 21st century they are having their first baby at 32 years of age.
"That's within a few generations. It's trending upwards."
Professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Coombe, he said the rise in the obesity rate of expectant mothers was also unprecedented.
He said: "It was fairly stable at 16pc and it's just jumped by nearly 3pc - which mightn't sound a lot but it's nearly a 20pc increase in the overall number.
"In general, women who are obese have twice the number of complications and twice the number of interventions. It has a real impact on the maternity services as it increases the complexity of the cases."
Some 55pc of obese mothers-to-be were over the age of 30 with the study showing the likelihood of them being obese rose with age.
Maternal obesity was linked to mothers of more than one child, unplanned pregnancies, unemployment and depression and mothers who were born in Ireland or the UK. The authors concluded the increase was too fast for genetic explanation.
"It is more likely due to changes in our social environment with diets shifting towards increased intake of unhealthy convenience low-cost foods and trends towards decreased physical activity due to increasingly sedentary work and recreation activities, changing modes of transport, commuting, and increasing urbanisation," they report.
Obesity is associated with an increase in complications such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia and an increase in caesarean births.
The research by Professor Turner along with lead author Dr Ciara Reynolds, Brendan Egan, Léan McMahon, Eimer O'Malley and Sharon Sheehan has been published in the 'European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology'.
Over the eight-year study, 52pc of women attending the Coombe were normal weight, 1.9pc were underweight, 29.1pc were overweight and 17pc were obese.
The research, with Dublin City University, reports the average maternal age rising from 30.5 in 2010 to 32.2 in 2017. Prof Turner believes this is linked to the effect of the recession which saw many young men emigrate while women stayed behind and upskilled in many cases.
"When austerity came in, a lot of women went back to full-time education, did a second degree or they stayed at work and postponed motherhood," he said.
"A lot of women deferred having their first baby from their 20s into their 30s. It's a response to what happen in the country economically.
"Women are prioritising their education and employment over motherhood."
Prof Turner said leaving motherhood until later in life was linked to women being more obese along with falling fertility and more complicated pregnancies.
He said: "It's good that women can exercise their choice but sometimes choice comes at a price. It's an important message to get across."