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Hum Reprod. 2011 Jun;26(6):1389-98. doi: 10.1093/humrep/der076. Epub 2011 Mar 25.

Age at first birth, mode of conception and psychological wellbeing in pregnancy: findings from the parental age and transition to parenthood Australia (PATPA) study.

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  • 1Centre for Emotional Health, Department of Psychology, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia.



It is increasingly common for women in high-income countries to delay childbearing. We aimed to describe the context of pregnancy for first-time mothers of different ages and examine relationships among maternal age at first birth, mode of conception and psychosocial wellbeing in pregnancy.


Using stratified sampling, we recruited similar numbers of women conceiving through assisted reproductive technology (ART; n = 297) or spontaneously (n = 295) across three age groups: younger, ≤ 20-30 years; middle, 31-36 years; older, ≥ 37 years. Women participated in a structured interview and completed validated questionnaires assessing socio-economic status, personality, quality of partner relationship, state and trait anxiety, pregnancy-focused (P-F) anxiety and maternal-fetal attachment.


Older maternal age was associated with lower depression and anxiety symptoms, lower maternal-fetal attachment (P< 0.05), greater psychological hardiness (resilience) (P< 0.001) and lower ratings of control in the partner relationship (P< 0.05) at a univariate level. ART conception, but not older maternal age, was associated with more P-F anxiety. Although most main effects of age and mode of conception became non-significant after controlling for contextual/reproductive history variables, a significant association between ART conception and more intense fetal attachment emerged (P< 0.05).


Women having their first baby when older appear to have some psychological advantages over their younger counterparts; they are more resilient, report their partners as less controlling and report lower symptoms of depression and anxiety during pregnancy. However, women conceiving through ART have a more complex experience of pregnancy, simultaneously experiencing more P-F anxiety and more intense emotional attachment to the fetus.

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