The number of women aged 40 and above having babies in Hong Kong increased by almost 90 per cent in the past decade, while the rate doubled for those over 45. While experts attributed the increase to career-minded women and an environment that is not friendly to families, doctors warned that older mothers faced greater risks during pregnancy and were more likely to develop diseases of the uterus and complications such as hypertension. Watch: A Hong Kong mother’s struggle The generally recognised cut-off line for advanced maternal age is 35, measured according to the risk of a baby being born with Down’s syndrome. Census and Statistics Department data show that 3,391 babies were born to mothers aged 40 or above in 2014, an 86 per cent rise from the 1,819 in 2005. The number of babies born to mothers aged 45 jumped from just 87 to 174, reflecting a trend towards older motherhood, with the median age increasing from 30.8 to 32.4. Hong Kong’s older mothers feeling the strain That was against a much slower growth of newborns, up nine per cent over the past decade, from 57,098 in 2005 to 62,305 in 2014. It means that babies born to mothers aged 40 or older accounted for only 3.2 per cent of birth 10 years ago compared with 5.4 per cent in 2014. “Education levels and economic status of women nowadays have been raised ... so has their standard in choosing partners,” said Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, a member of the government’s steering committee on population policy. “Long working hours are discouraging to people who want to be parents … [children’s] education could be expensive and stressful too.” And 45 is no longer considered such an advanced age for women to give birth. There is much speculation in the city that the wife of film star Andy Lau Tak-wah, Carol Chu, is pregnant in her 50s. Dr Cheung Tak-hong, chief of Prince of Wales Hospital’s obstetrics and gynaecology department, said people now were less keen on rushing into marriage. “People are getting married much later than before. In the past it was a big deal if a woman could not marry before 30 years old, but now people want to have fun first,” said Cheung. The median age for women getting married increased from 26.9 in 1996 to 29.1 in 2014, according to government statistics. Private obstetrician Dr Law Chi-lim said the oldest pregnancy he had handled was a 52-year-old woman who conceived naturally, though she had a miscarriage. “For those who aged 45 or older, very few of them could be conceived naturally,” he said, adding less than five per cent of all deliveries in this age group were successful in his experience. Cheung warned that older women would be more likely to develop severe uterine diseases despite getting pregnant. “The quality of eggs is not that good and would possibly lead to Down’s syndrome ... the embryo might not form into shape easily, too.” Mainland women gatecrashing Hong Kong’s maternity wards, 3 years after CY Leung’s ‘zero-quota’ policy Even with the help of reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilisation, success rates are still lower for older women. “It might be below 10 per cent for women aged 40 or older, as against 20 to 25 per cent for younger women,” said Cheung. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of women aged 46 or above receiving such procedures to get pregnant ranged from 86 to 126. But the live birth rate for in vitro fertilisation – one of the commonly used procedures – remained low. In 2014, only one baby was successfully delivered out of 87 treatments for women aged 46 to 50. No successful cases were recorded for women older than 50. Chung Kim-wah, director of Polytechnic University’s centre for social policy studies, said the government should improve the relatively poor fertility environment to encourage births. “If families with two or three children were given priority in moving into government subsidised flats, there would be a certain encouragement effect,” said Chung. That was similar to the third-child priority scheme established in Singapore, where up to five per cent of the available flat supply is set aside for families with more than two children.