BORDER women are giving birth later in life, with about one in five mothers now aged over 35.
The increased maternal age, coupled with lifestyle factors, means premature birth rates in the region are also on the rise.
During the 27 years she has worked in maternity services, Julie Wright has seen the age of mothers rise significantly.
“There are definitely more women having babies in their 30s,” the Albury Wodonga Health women and children services director said.
“It used to be that women giving birth in their 40s was very rare, now we are seeing more.
“But we’re seeing more complexities among the mothers.
“Social things like illicit drug use, increasing obesity and the increasing rate of diabetes in pregnancy will all tend to lead to an increased number of premature births.”
Figures released by Albury Wodonga Health this week highlight trends in local births.
Ten years ago, the rate of premature births – babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy – was 6.2 per cent.
That grew to 7.8 per cent in the 2008-09 financial year and 8.5 per cent in the 12 months to June 30 this year.
About 18.6 per cent of women were aged over 35 when giving birth in 2013-14, up from 16.8 per cent 10 years ago.
Ms Wright said earlier statistics weren’t available, but anecdotal evidence showed a clear increase.
“These days most women would have had their first baby by about age 28,” she said.
“Twenty-five years ago that used to be considered quite old.”
The proportion of women under 20 giving birth has declined sharply in the past decade.
Overall birth rates have also increased, with a total of 1659 babies delivered in Wodonga in 2013-14, up from 1565 a decade ago.
“There’s also an increase in caesarean section births,” she said.
“We’re also finding the mothers are coming from a wider range of countries.”
Deliveries peaked in 2012-13, with 1723 babies born.