The average age of first time mothers is increasing as more and more women delay having children. The proportion of first births to women 35 and older has increased nearly eight times since 1970 in the United States.
Mothers frequently ask if they think breastfeeding difficulties may be related to their age. However, despite the increase in numbers of older moms, there has been little research into the relationship between maternal age and milk production.
Older women can definitely breastfeed. Women who are past menopause have been known to relactate for a grandchild. Wet nurses have reportedly “worked” well into their sixties.
However, some factors that are associated with delayed lactation and low milk production are more common in older women. These include diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, insulin resistance, hypertension and obesity. None of these preclude successful breastfeeding-they are just associated with more problems– problems which can usually be overcome.
Twin pregnancies, often associated with infertility treatments which are more common in the older mom, cause an increased demand which makes supply problems more likely. Otherwise, fertility issues do not necessarily correlate with breastfeeding difficulties.
In my experience, a woman’s age-even considering associated health conditions– is not usually a significant factor in milk production. Early and frequent removal of milk in conjunction, if necessary, with the use of herbal supplements or prescription medications can solve most cases of low supply. Many older mothers have the advantage of being well prepared for childbirth and the postpartum period, and are motivated to make the most of their childbearing experience. They are often more successful than their younger counterparts.
Just like the younger mom, an older mother who is expecting a baby and wants to maximize her chances of breastfeeding success should educate herself, line up hospital and outpatient support, and plan to devote the first days and weeks of her new baby’s life to making sure this important part of caring for her new arrival is going well.