How old is too old to have a baby?

In what is being called a medical miracle, science has struck another blow against the female body clock with the successful pregnancy of a woman who underwent a rare ovarian tissue transplant.

The potential for the procedure is enormous. It means that a woman’s fertility could be preserved “indefinitely”. It could mean that menopause could be avoided altogether, and that women could be ovulating in their 50s and 60s. And falling pregnant.

But Dr Lynn Burmeister (pictured right) from Monash Medical Centre told The Hoopla today that the procedure will, for the moment, only be available for medical – not social – reasons.

“This is a new frontier for medicine and for IVF. It’s a brave new world,” she said.

Dr Burmeister oversaw the rare procedure on the now 44 year old woman who is six weeks pregnant.

Diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37, the woman underwent surgery to have a wedge of her healthy ovary removed and frozen so she could start chemotherapy, which would have damaged her chances of reproduction.

In April this year the woman, now cancer free and married, returned to the Monash Medical Centre where the healthy tissue was re-implanted and four months later, her ovaries started working again.

“For the moment this procedure is for cancer sufferers or women at risk of early menopause, or women with damaged ovaries,” Dr Burmeister said.

“Unless there is a medical reason, I would discourage women from seeking this treatment (so social reasons).”

The woman is only the 19th woman in the world and the first in Australia to undergo the transplant.

Professor Gab Kovacs, of the Monash clinic told The Age: The whole concept of using it for social reasons doesn’t sit comfortably with me, so I’m not advocating it for that, but is might have a place in preventing diseases that come with menopause, such as osteoporosis.

Dr Burmeister again: “But potentially in the future we will face the ethical considerations of women having babies in their 50s and 60s. Right now our cutoff for fertility treatment is 52, because that’s the average age of menopause, but potentially women could be ovulating in their 50s and 60s.”





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  • Reply November 29, 2012


    I do want to see corresponding discussion on the ethical issues with MEN having children in their 50s and 60s. I have no argument with the medical stats – the risks to women having children older, etc etc – I’m in complete agreement. But if we’re talking ethics, do ethics only apply to old mothers? We know men can (theoretically) father children into their 70s, without significant medical intervention. Are there ethical reasons to prevent that?

  • Reply November 29, 2012

    Wendy Harmer

    Would it be good to avoid menopause? The night sweats, weight gain around the middle and hot flushes?
    Maybe, but getting down the sanitary products aisles in your dotage doesn’t sound like much fun.
    As a girlfriend quipped : ” I’d hate to be 80 and leak on my bowls whites. Have to tie my cardie around my waist.”

  • Reply November 29, 2012


    I agree with Fiona, too, although an older man (Rupert, for example) with a young family, presupposes a younger wife, so at least one parent is younger. It would not be fun for a 10yr old to have two elderly parents with dementia, for example. it’s very good news for young women who suffer from cancer.

  • Reply November 29, 2012

    Benison O'Reilly

    Shudder – couldn’t think of anything worse than having kids at my age! However, for cancer survivors this is wonderful news.

  • Reply November 29, 2012

    Lisa mckenzie

    It is great in this case,but not just because you feel like having it done,I am in my 40s and would not ever want to have a baby at my age,no thankyou.

  • Reply November 29, 2012


    How brilliant! My now 15 year old daughter is a cancer survivor and has part of her premenstral ovaries removed and frozen. The news from Melbourne means that one day she too may be able to have children.

  • Reply November 29, 2012


    I meant pre menarche (not premenstral)

  • Reply November 29, 2012

    Sam Stone

    In this case it is great! Congrats to the lady mentioned in the article. I also agree with Fiona.

  • Reply November 29, 2012

    Aussie Chick

    Do we ask the same question about how old is too old for a man to have a child?

    I don’t hear many (any?) people arguing that it’s unethical for a man in their 50s to have kids.

  • Reply November 29, 2012


    If I may use the analogy of getting another dog in my mid-fifties when I have a terminal illness~ I think such a choice would be wrong~ even if there are others who would be prepared to take over the care of my dependant dog….

    Meanwhile, I am happy for the woman who is now expecting.

  • Reply November 29, 2012

    Lucy Clark

    Dear Meg, that is just so wonderful! I am so happy for you and your daughter. Ain’t science grand?
    – Ed.

  • Reply November 29, 2012


    In the case of the man, it really doesn’t matter as much how old he is. After all, it’s the mother who performs the majority of childcare. Of course it is preferable that both parents are young enough to be around and capable of bringing up children to adulthood, but plenty of women are doing it on their own already for whatever reason.

  • Reply November 29, 2012


    The notion of “social” as distinct from “medical” infertility is fraught with prejudice.

  • Reply November 29, 2012

    Dr P Martin

    As a man, I think it is inappropriate (and selfish) to be creating babies at the age of 50 (or even 40) or above, whatever your gender.

    I can see the usefulness in cases of chemotherapy in women in their 20s & 30s (or younger) but the flow on effect of allowing otherwise healthy women to delay their first child into their 50s or 60s is just madness.

    If we’re going to address reproductive issues, I’d rather we change the laws on same-sex couples to allow them to have equal reproductive status to heterosexual couples before we start allowing people to just ‘put it off’ until the time is right.

    I can’t imagine having a parent who is a pensioner (and retired) before I’ve left school! Babies are for young adults…

  • Reply November 30, 2012


    I’m wondering why they chose to publish the success of a transplant when the woman is only six weeks pregnant.

  • Reply November 30, 2012

    Tony W

    @ Fiona – “But if we’re talking ethics, do ethics only apply to old mothers?”

    I think when Dr. Burmeister says “potentially in the future we will face the ethical considerations of women having babies in their 50s and 60s”, she’s referring to medical ethics. That is, the risk to the health of the mother and baby.

    On the question of old fathers – a woman’s choice of partner is entirely her own business, as is the choice to have children with him. Likewise the choice of whether to stay with him or not – they’re her children, and she can always divorce him and be assured of custody. Isn’t that what feminism is all about? Allowing women to make their own choices in life?

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