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Health and wellbeing in pregnancy

Principal investigator
Reija Klemetti (THL, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland)
Jenny Kurinczuk (NPEU), Maggie Redshaw (NPEU (Former member))
Mental health and wellbeing
Start year
End year


Most developed countries are undergoing fertility postponement transition and men and women are becoming parents at an older age. Births over 35 and 40 are becoming increasingly common, and the age at first childbirth has increased notably. For example, in the United Kingdom the average age of the first birth was 23.7 years in 1977 and 27.6 in 2006. Previous literature has shown that older maternal age is associated with increasing risks for many pregnancy complications. The objective of this study was to describe the use of antenatal care and the health and wellbeing during the pregnancy, comparing the experience of older and younger mothers.

Data from the National Survey of Women Experience of Maternity Care in 2006 in England was used for this study, with complete data on age and parity available on 2825 women. The prevalence of different symptoms and the number of these experienced during the pregnancy, the extent to which GP and midwifery services were used were investigated.

Key findings

  • Substantial numbers of women reported pregnancy-related symptoms likely to cause discomfort and affect daily life.
  • Older women (35 years or more) used antenatal health care less, having fewer antenatal visits, overnight stays in hospital, and pregnancy-related symptoms than women aged <25 years.
  • Symptom prevalence varied with age and parity: compared with younger women (aged less than 25 years) older women were less likely to have hyperemesis or to experience depression and more likely to have physical problems or symptoms such as haemorrhoids, varicose veins, carpal tunnel syndrome and stress incontinence.

In summary, older women and experienced fewer symptoms but those reported were of the type that are more likely to persist after pregnancy, with the exception of depression, which was most commonly reported by the youngest women.