15:14 27 May 2010
The number of older mothers has seen a sharp rise over the last few decades, new figures show.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of babies born to mothers over 40 has nearly trebled in 20 years and is set to continue to rise.
In 2009, 26,976 babies were born to women aged 40 and over, compared with 9,336 in 1989 and 14,252 in 1999, figures for England and Wales show.
Among those aged 35 to 39, there were 114,288 births in 2009, a rise of 41% on the 81,281 in 1999.
However, the number of overall births has fallen by 0.3% the ONS reports, from 708,711 in 2008 to 706,248 in 2009 - the first yearly drop since 2001.
The number of abortions has also seen a drop by 3.2%. There were 189,100 abortions in 2009, down from 195,296 in 2008.
Among under-15s, there were 1,047 abortions (down from 1,097 in 2008), of which 136 were on girls under 14 and 911 were on 14-year-olds.
Among all under-16s, there were 3,823 abortions (down from 4,113 in 2008) and 17,916 among under-18s (down from 19,387 in 2008). Girls aged 15 to 19 accounted for 39,020 abortions in 2009.
Of abortions among all ages, 2,637 women had had three previous abortions, 779 had had four and 214 had had five. A total of 48 women had had seven or more abortions.
Compared with 2008, the birth rate for women under 35 has fallen. Among those aged under 20, there was a 2.3% drop, from 26 live births per 1,000 women in 2008 to 25.4 in 2009.
Rates for women aged 20 to 24 and 25 to 29 fell by 1.6% and 1.4% respectively, while for women aged 30 to 34 there was a 0.4% decline. But rates for women aged 35 to 39 and 40 to 44 continued to rise in 2009, by 1.2% and 2.4% respectively.
The figures also showed that the proportion of births to mothers born outside the UK continued to rise, from 24.1% in 2008 to 24.7% in 2009. The proportion of births to overseas mothers has increased every year since 1990, when it was just under 12%. In 1999, the figure was 14.3%.
Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, told the BBC the small decline in the birth rate was "a tiny morsel of good news".
"The birth rate has gone up by 19% since 2001 yet the number of midwives has risen by only 11% over the same period.
"The figures also mask the fact that an increasing number of births are becoming more complicated, requiring more of midwives' time.
"This very small decrease in the birth rate should not be used as an excuse to stop or reduce the promised rise in the number of midwives."
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