Wondering how you’ll know when it’s the right time to have a baby? A lot of factors—including finances and relationship status—influence when you start trying to have a baby. But experts say there are plenty of physical and emotional issues to weigh when deciding if—or when—it’s time to have kids.
Young Moms: The Pros
Doctors say there’s no definitive age cutoff that defines “young” versus “older” moms. However experts agree that line is somewhere around age 32 to 35. Fertility declines slowly till 32 then more quickly until age 37, when it begins to rapidly decline, saysSonya Kashyap, M.D., medical director of Genesis Fertility Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia. “Over age 35 is considered as advanced maternal age.”
That’s why a younger woman has a better chance of getting pregnant than a woman in her mid- to late-30s or 40s. Younger women also have less chance of complications like high blood pressure or gestational diabetes, which are associated with age, says Kecia Gaither, MD, vice chairman and director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY.
“Younger moms have a lower risk of having babies with chromosomal abnormalities like Down Syndrome,” adds Dr. Gaither.
There is also a decreased risk of developing breast cancer if you have completed a full-term pregnancy early in life. “A woman who delivers at age 20, may have a 50 percent less risk of developing breast cancer as opposed to a women whose first pregnancy was at 30,” says Dr. Gaither. “This is thought to be linked to hormones.”
Age might temper fear of labor and delivery, too.
“Younger mothers are more prepared for the painful process of labor and more likely to have vaginal delivery,” says Daniel Roshan, M.D., professor, NYU School of Medicine and director, ROSH Maternal-Fetal Medicine.
There aren’t many health risks for woman between 18 and 35 who have babies, says Dr. Kashyap. “Biology meant for us to have babies younger.”
But some emotional stumbling blocks might be challenging to navigate your way around.
“Women who are young are at high risk of emotional issues since they’re less versed in life’s lessons and may not be emotionally ready to handle the responsibility of a newborn baby,” says Jesse Hade, M.D., at Neway Fertility in New York, NY. Depression and anxiety resulting from lack of experience can occur more often in young moms than those over 35.
Having a baby at a younger age limits life experiences that help shape a woman’s parental views. “A young mom might not be as ‘grown-up’ or as responsible as moms a few years older,” says Dr. Hade. “Young moms might not be as financially stable to start a family as moms in their mid-30s.”
Older Moms: The Pros
It’s said that age brings wisdom. And Dr. Gaither says that translates to being more emotionally grounded. “Older moms tend to be more grounded so they’re able to make better decisions.”
Having a baby after age 35 lets you tap into a vast amount of personal experiences and examples of family members and friends.
Waiting a little longer to have a baby also helps pad your nest egg. “The longer you are in the work environment, the better your financial status and preparedness to have a baby,” says Dr. Gaither.
Chances are, you’ll be more patient, too.
You take less for granted in your mid-30s and 40s, so instead of rushing around from ballet class to soccer practice, you’ll stop to marvel at the fact that you have a child. And take time to stop and smell the roses with that child, too.
The biggest downside to waiting to have a baby is reduced fertility. Fertility starts to decline for women after age 30 but for most not significantly until after 37, says Dr. Kashyap. “It’s generally very difficult to get pregnant after 40.”
As a result, women older than 35 are advised to seek infertility treatment after 6 months of trying to conceive, while women younger than 35 aren’t typically evaluated until they’ve been trying for one year.
Older moms have to be prepared for the toll that trying to have a baby can take on your emotions and sex life.
“Older women have an increased need for infertility treatments in order to conceive. As a result, the paradigm shift that occurs when conception occurs in the doctor’s office instead of the bedroom can be staggering,” says Jane Dimer, M.D.,Maternity Child Clinical Service Chief at Group Health Central Hospital in Seattle, Wash. “There can be an emotional ripple effect of conceiving that way which can take the ‘sexiness’ out of ‘sex.’”
Dr. Dimer says there are also increased risks of medical complications like stroke, blood clots, diabetes or for the development of serious heart complications during pregnancy when a mom is 35 and older.
“The chance of needing early induction of labor or the need for a cesarean section birth are much higher in women over 35 than for younger women,” adds Dr. Dimer.
The Bottom Line
No matter your age, it’s wise to consult your doctor about your personal health history and any issues that may impact your ability to conceive.