Some scientific studies say pregnancy and birth physically ages us. Others say it keeps us young. What’s the truth?
Why do some mums look young and full of energy while others swear that having children has made them look and feel ancient?
It’s a conundrum that scientists are trying to crack.
A study at the University of Washington found there may be evidence that pregnancy does age us physically.
It discovered that with each pregnancy, a mother’s telomeres — the cap at the end of a strand of DNA that protects chromosomes from damage — appear older by between four months and four years when compared with those of a woman the same age without children.
According to the study, this causes mothers to age too.
But is this true? And does having children later in life mean you’ll age faster?
Consultant gynaecologist Tania Adib says: ‘There is conflicting evidence. Studies have shown that women who have children later in life — and more children — are more likely to live until the age of 90. Having said that, pregnancy puts a huge stress on the mother, with increased blood volume, increased cardiovascular output, and is likened to the effort exerted by an athlete for the duration of the pregnancy. To support growth of the foetal bones, calcium is taken from the mother which leads to thinning of the bones.’
However, she adds that oestrogen — the hormone that floods women while pregnant — can make us look younger.
‘Oestrogen is what makes pregnant women look so radiant,’ she says. ‘It is also an anti-oxidant so this could be the mechanism by which it keeps women young. Oestrogen levels in pregnancy are higher than during the rest of a woman’s life. It also boosts serotonin levels so increases the sense of wellbeing.’
While the science offers conflicting evidence, it seems the jury is out on whether becoming a mum makes us feel older or younger.
‘I’ve had four kids, but still get asked for ID!’
I was only 16 when I fell pregnant with my daughter. Three years later a son followed, then I had two more girls. By the time I was in my late 20s, I had four children.
When you’re a young mother, you are often expected to fail. People expected me to look haggard and aged. After all, I had four sets of sleepless nights to deal with.
However, this didn’t happen.
I thrived off my children’s energy and I noticed something — as each baby came along, I actually looked younger.
Now my children are 13, nine, five and two. Undeniably, they are a handful, but I love them.
A few days ago, I went to buy a bottle of wine and was asked for ID. I was so flattered, I giggled.
I love every minute of being a mum and I believe it makes you stay young — if you allow it to.
From Laura Nibbs, 31, of Halifax, W Yorks
‘I look nothing like the old me’
I have two children — a daughter, eight, and a son, four. When I was pregnant the first time, I got the ‘pregnancy glow’. I had thicker hair, shiny plump skin and felt amazing.
After my daughter was born, she was a great sleeper, so I felt really lucky.
My second pregnancy was not so easy. When my son was born, he didn’t sleep well, and I felt more and more tired.
Now, I look at photos of me seven years ago and I’ve aged so much. I look nothing like the old me. My face has changed, and I feel tired all the time.
I love my children, but being a mum is draining. You’re constantly clock-watching, going to bed early because you have to get up so early and there’s very little time for yourself or for relaxing.
I wouldn’t change being a mum for anything, but I definitely think it ages you!
From Charlotte Brighton, 35, of Gosport, Hants
Edited by Julie Cook