A 55-year-old woman from Boston, England, has become Britain's oldest mother of triplets.
Sharon Cutts, now a mother of seven, gave birth by Caesarean section to triplets at Nottingham University Hospital after receiving private IVF treatment in Cyprus. There were complications during the pregnancy, but the triplets were reportedly born healthy after an 11-week stay in hospital.
Speaking to The Sun, Cutts explained how she had decided to undergo IVF with her partner, Stuart Reynolds, who had wanted to have his own children. As she had already started the menopause, the couple required the use of donated eggs. NHS funding of IVF is not recommended for women over the age of 42, so the couple sought private treatment at a clinic that would be prepared to treat women her age, who are at increased risk of health problems during pregnancy.
'In the UK we are extremely cautious of giving IVF treatment to women over 50 due to health problems, including a higher chance of miscarriage, high blood pressure, risk of prolonged labour and stillbirth,' Professor Geeta Nargund, senior consultant gynaecologist for reproductive medicine service at St George's Hospital, London, told The Sun. 'Risks to babies include low birth weight, premature birth, pre-term labour and long-term health risks including cerebral palsy.'
The chances of a successful implantation also decrease with a woman's age. The couple took out loans of £15,000 to pay for three rounds of fertility treatment in total. After two failed attempts at a London clinic, the couple turned to a clinic in Cyprus, which offers IVF to women up to the age of 60. The third cycle of IVF was successful after doctors at the clinic transferred four embryos – three of which implanted successfully.
Due to the health risks associated with multiple pregnancy and births, the UK has adopted a national strategy to reduce the incidence of multiple births and to promote single embryo transfer.
'In the UK we're very well regulated about the number of embryos legally,' said Professor Nargund. 'After 40, some [NHS] clinics are legally allowed to put in three embryos, but there must be a very strong medical reason. These guidelines are to protect the welfare of babies and their mothers.'
A few weeks after finding out she was pregnant, a scan showed Cutts she was having triplets. As she was a high risk patient, because of her age and multiple pregnancy, the medical team advised Cutts to abort one of the babies but the couple refused.
'If I wasn't in the peak of health I wouldn't have done it,' she told the Sun. 'I need to be fit and stay as well as I can, which I will. I spent 11 years in the Navy and ran four marathons. I know how to look after myself.'
Professor Nargund says she would advise couples not to travel abroad for this type of treatment. 'Reproductive tourism carries long-term health risks. The NHS has an obligation to look after all citizens, wherever they've had IVF, so going abroad can put a strain on the system,' she said.