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IVF treatment age limit removed in Singapore—but how old is too old to get pregnant?

Although the risk factor for older mothers can be high, they should not be discouraged as medical care for geriatric pregnancies has improved greatly

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Singapore—It was announced on Wednesday, August 28 that the age limit for women who get in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments will be removed by January 1, 2020, as part of a greater initiative to encourage parenthood.

At present, the age limit for women undergoing procedures for assisted reproduction technology (ART) is set at 45.

Along with the removal of the age limit starting next year, the maximum number of IVF cycles per woman will also be removed, which is currently at five cycles for women ages 40 and above, and 10 cycles for women younger than this age.

Furthermore, according to the Ministry of Health (MOH) government co-funding for ART procedures will also be increased, based on the would-be mother’s health and history. Not only Singaporean residents may avail of this co-funding, but even if one spouse is a permanent resident or even a foreign citizen, an amount is given for co-funding the procedures.

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With infertility affecting around 14 to 20 percent of couples, and with the need to raise the country’s birthrate, measures to help families have more children are understandable and required for the future of the country.

But the question still arises: how old is too old for pregnancy? We’ve all read the inspirational stories of celebrities having babies late in life. Actress Halle Berry was 47 when she had her son, and pop superstar Janet Jackson had hers at 50. Model-actress Brigitte Nielsen had her fifth baby last year at the age of 55.

But these actresses are not an exception. Madonna, Mariah Carey, Salma Hayek, Nicole Kidman, Brooke Shields and Meryl Streep all had children when they were in their 40s.

In fact, some fertility experts believe that older celebrity mothers are responsible for inspiring women to try to have babies later in life, with women even in their sixties approaching specialists with the desire to have a child.

However, the risk factors for geriatric pregnancies, as these late in life babies are called, can be high. Furthermore, what doctors consider as geriatric pregnancies actually start when a woman reaches the age of 35.

One of the risks of a late-in-life baby is that older mothers are more likely to have pre-existing health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity when they get pregnant, all of which can make carrying a baby to full-term more difficult.

Another risk of older mothers is that they may have babies born prematurely, of having low birth weight.  Dr. Kecia Gaither, a double board-certified physician in OB/GYN in maternal fetal medicine and director of perinatal services in New York, told Insider last year, “Low birth weight babies tend to be born to mothers at extremes of age… very young mothers or older mothers.”

Moreover, research has also proven the correlation between older mothers and genetic conditions such as Down syndrome. ”As women age, there is a concordant increase in the risk of having babies with genetic abnormalities. Trisomy 21, or Down Syndrome, is a perfect example,” Dr Gaither said.

Chromosomal abnormalities can also contribute toward spontaneous abortions or miscarriages.

Since high blood pressure is more common in older people, this puts older mothers at a higher risk of preeclampsia, which can curtail growth or even cause death for babies in the womb. In fact, mothers who are over 35 actually have a higher chance of stillbirths than younger mothers.

This is not to say that older mothers should be discouraged in any way. Medicine has advanced by leaps and bounds, and care for geriatric pregnancies has improved greatly. It’s still good for parents to be aware of the risks of having children at more advanced ages. -/TISG

Read related: Singapore’s fertility slide continues, lowest number of babies in 8 years in 2018

Singapore’s fertility slide continues, lowest number of babies in 8 years in 2018

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