Ireland needs a national fertility awareness campaign because of the number of Irish mothers who are leaving it too late to have children, according to leading experts.
Births in Ireland are currently at a 50-year high, while the average age of mothers has risen to 31.4.
Experts in reproductive medication in Ireland have agreed that women need to be aware of the fact that age is a factor when conceiving.
Dr Edgar Mocanu, consultant-in-charge at the Human Assisted Reproduction Unit in the Rotunda Hospital, said that there is a need for male and female reproductive classes to be included in school's curriculum.
"It is important for school children to understand that fertility is a finite opportunity and one should consider having a family young rather than when too late. Career is important but should be developed in parallel to achieving the desired fertility potential," he told the Irish Examiner.
Dr John Waterstone, medical director of the Cork Fertility Center told the Irish Examiner that the most important message we need to communicate is that age and fertility are inextricably linked.
"They [women] don’t realize just how important the age thing is and they think ‘I feel young, I look young, I exercise, I’m in good shape’, but they don’t realize that the aging of the ovaries is inexorable, it doesn’t matter if you look young or feel young, this is beyond your control."
For many Irish women work is a priority before having children, according to Dr Osman Shamoun, consultant obstetrician and gynecologist at Clane Fertility Clinic, who says that the biology class would be a good place to build awareness about fertility.
"I think work is a priority more than fertility, and maybe there is a lack of awareness that age is a very, very important factor. If you say to a woman ‘you’re born with your eggs’ most don’t know that fact, and when you are 39, your eggs are 39 and the longer they are there, the more difficult they are to fertilize."
Deferred motherhood is getting worse in Ireland, according to another leading expert.
Dr Declan Egan, medical director of the Galway Fertility Unit told the Irish Examiner that "People are coming later and later. It’s getting married late, it’s leaving it until the last minute hoping they’ll pull it off without having to come near a fertility clinic."
Dr Waterstone added that a fertility awareness campaign could follow the format of other Health Service Executive (HSE) public health campaigns.
"That kind of advertising would never have happened 10 years ago, now we have these health messages on national TV and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t do the same for reproduction," he added.
In a statement in response to such a proposal, the Health Service Executive said that fertility awareness resources are currently available: "Information with respect to fertility has been included in the TRUST pack – which is a resource for teachers of Relationship and Sexuality Education at senior cycle – it is a resource that has been developed in partnership with Department of Education and Science, HSE and Crisis Pregnancy Programme."
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