IRISH women are waiting longer to start a family and some are even putting it off until their 40s, an ESRI report published today reveals.
As many as 16pc of first births are to women aged 35 and over -- compared with 10pc in 2001.
The report, which outlined pregnancy outcomes for 2010, confirms that the average age of mothers has risen from 30.3 to 31.5 years in that time.
It showed that there were 3,673 births to women in their 40s in 2010, some of whom were having their first child.
Coombe hospital obstetrician Professor Michael Turner said while he was not generally concerned about women waiting until later to start a family, he was uneasy about those in their late 30s deferring having their first child until their 40s. The report showed that while the death rate for babies around the time of birth has fallen generally, it is still higher for women in their 40s.
The perinatal mortality rate -- the measure of children dying shortly before or after birth -- was 6.8 per 1,000 live births and still births, a fall of 21pc since 2001.
However, the rate is higher for mothers in their early to mid-40s at 11.4 per 1,000 live births and still births.
Prof Turner, who is also the clinical lead in obstetrics for the Health Service Executive (HSE), said the perinatal figures were a tribute to staff working under considerable pressure, with increased demands and expectations.
"There has been a decrease in the number of stillbirths, which may be related to better ante-natal diagnosis through ultrasound.
"There has also been a decrease in the number of neonatal deaths, most of whom are babies born prematurely and are less than 1,500 grams," said Prof Turner.
He said Ireland was still a very safe place for mother and baby but warned there was no room for complacency. "If we cut back any further in our maternity services, we can make minor savings in the short term but there could be a horrific outcome for an individual baby, and millions of euros in costs to the State."
He said compensation payouts for obstetric negligence were costing €48m-€50m annually, the yearly budget of one of the big maternity hospitals."
The ESRI report said the rate of caesarean section in 2010, when 75,245 babies were born, was high at 26pc, compared with 21pc in 2001.
Almost 46pc of babies were exclusively breastfed at discharge, compared with 31.5pc a decade ago.
The report said birth weight had remained stable and more than one in two mothers who had one baby were home from hospital after two days.
The majority of women who had multiple births were in hospital for three to five days.
A mother's average length of stay in 2001 was 4.4 days, but this fell to 3.4 days in 2010.
There were 2,840 sets of twins born in 2010, up from 1,756 as more women availed of fertility treatment. There were 74 sets of triplets born, a slight rise from 71 in 2001.
Prof Turner said the country's 19 maternity units had been sent data setting out their emergency and elective caesarean section rates along with what the benchmark figure is.
Asked about the " too posh to push" claim, he said internationally only about 1pc of women who were healthy asked for a caesarean section and their motivation was mostly a desire to have a good outcome rather than a wish for convenience.