Women who have babies over the age of 40 face only a “relatively small increase in risk”, a leading midwife has said.

Cathy Warwick, who was chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, questioned why people were “terrifying” women about having babies later in life.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, she said: “Even if you have your baby at 42 or 45, it’s a relatively small increase in risk to you if you’re otherwise healthy.

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“I’m not sure why we’re quite so worried about the age issue, and I’m not sure we should be terrifying women about it.

“The thing I feel sad about for women is if they leave childbearing later and then can’t conceive.”

Research published in May this year found that older mothers are significantly more likely to suffer severe complications during childbirth.

The authors of the study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, said women who consider delaying having children until their 40s should be alerted to the findings.

The study examined rates of potentially life-threatening complications of giving birth such as kidney failure, obstetric shock, and amniotic fluid embolism.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia, Canada, found the risk increases in older mothers.

They examined data on more than 800,000 singleton births to women living in Washington State in the US between 2003 and 2013.

Compared with younger mothers, the risk of severe problems was 0.9 per cent higher for mothers 40 to 44 years, 1.6 per cent higher for mothers 45 to 49 years and 6.4 per cent for mothers over 50.

The authors wrote: “These results should improve counselling to women who contemplate delaying childbirth until their forties and provide useful information to their health care providers.

“As maternal age continues to increase, the rate of severe maternal morbidity is likely to increase in the future.”