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The Rise of the Older Mom: ‘It’s Never Too Late to Become a Mother’

Supermodel Naomi Campbell, 53, welcomes a son as more women are having children later in life

spinner image from left to right rapper da brat model naomi campbell and actress hilary swank
From left to right: Da Brat, Naomi Campbell and Hilary Swank.
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images / Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images / Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

​While few can relate to supermodel Naomi Campbell when it comes to her professional life, more and more women can connect with her role as an older mom.​ ​

Campbell recently revealed on Instagram that she’d become a mother for the second time — at age 53 — with the birth of her son.​ ​

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The list of celebrity moms who have welcomed children later in life is long. Singer Janet Jackson was 50. Rapper Da Brat had a baby boy at age 49. Hilary Swank had twins at 48. Madonna was 42. Actress Halle Berry had her first at 41 and second at 47. ​ ​

Campbell ended her surprise announcement with, “It’s never too late to become a mother.”​ ​

That sentiment has become more socially acceptable in recent decades.​ ​

“There was a period in the ’60s and ’70s when, if you weren’t married by 25, the world was ending, at least for your parents,” says social psychologist and parenting expert Susan Newman. “That’s no longer true. Women are getting more advanced education and more established in their job before starting a family.”​ ​

Advances in reproductive technology have also been a big reason for delayed motherhood. The median age for first-time mothers was 30 in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — the highest it’s ever been. ​

An analysis by the Census Bureau, based on National Center for Health Statistics data, showed that even though fertility rates for women ages 20-24 declined by 43 percent from 1990 to 2019, those rates surged a whopping 132 percent for women ages 40 to 44 during the same time period.

New technologies make older motherhood possible

Many risks that previously prevented older women from becoming mothers have been reduced with new techniques like egg and embryo freezing, the use of donor eggs and surrogates, and in vitro fertilization (when an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body). Adoption is also an option. ​ ​Although the chance of getting pregnant with your own eggs after age 46 “is essentially zero,” most fertility clinics will offer embryo transfers to women up to age 55 after a high-risk pregnancy clearance, notes Lisa Becht, a double board-certified fertility specialist with HRC Fertility in Newport Beach, California. ​​Donated eggs — fresh or frozen — typically have much higher success rates for those with low hormone levels or women 42 or older, Becht added.​

And whatever path older mothers take, they have a chance at breastfeeding too, says Kathleen McCue, a family nurse practitioner and international board-certified lactation consultant based in Bethesda, Maryland, who helps induce lactation in non-biological mothers.​​ “I’ve seen a ton of older moms coming in for this,” she says. ​​Reproductive organs aren’t needed to make milk, says McCue: “As long as someone has a functioning pituitary gland, we can induce lactation. ... The quality of the milk is the same.”

​Debbie Fenton, who lives in Perinton, New York, went through nearly five years of fertility treatments to become a first-time mother, finding success with the more aggressive and expensive process of in vitro fertilization — the most effective form of assisted reproductive technology to become a first-time mother, according to the Mayo Clinic. ​ ​

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​Fenton wound up giving birth to triplets — Neptune, Jordan and Kariana — at age 46.​ ​

“It’s quite a whirlwind, I’ll tell you that,” says the 62-year-old massage therapist and yoga teacher.​ ​

Fenton, one of nine children, had always wanted to be a mother, and she revels in seeing her kids’ individual strengths and challenges. She has, however, had to navigate emotions around the age gap between herself and other parents of high school students.​ ​

“I’ve tried not to compare myself with other moms, but it has been a little tough because I'm literally 20 years older than most of them,” she says. “Initially I felt awkward and embarrassed.”​ ​

These days when people assume that she and her 73-year-old husband, Dave, are the grandparents, they set the record straight: “We just laugh it off and say, ‘We’re old enough to be, but we’re not.’ They get embarrassed, but we tell them, ‘Don’t be. We got a late start in this game.’ ”​ ​

​​Pros and cons of being an older mom​ ​

Educational psychologist Michele Borba, based in Palm Springs, California, has seen older moms parenting young children while simultaneously caregiving for their parents, which can make for a bumpy balancing act.​​

Other potential hardships may include dealing with reduced energy levels and struggling with increasing health challenges.​ ​

That said, “There is no rule on the perfect age to have a child,” Borba says.​ ​

In fact, while older mothers may experience a fear of missing out on major life events in the future — weddings, grandchildren — the odds of longevity for women, defined as living to age 90, increase the older their age when giving birth to their first child, according to a 2016 study from researchers at the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. ​ ​

“That is a plus when you have your friends, relatives and work colleagues telling you that you’re not going to be around to see your child grow up,” says Newman, who gave birth to a son at age 40. ​ ​

Borba has seen older moms show more patience handling tantrums, picky eaters, bedtime battles and other everyday parenting issues.​ ​

“Less-stressed, happier moms raise less-stressed, happier kids — the key to resilience and helping children thrive,” says Borba, author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reason Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine. “And that's exactly why we should halt our judging. Every mom — at every age — needs a cheerleader.”​

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