Does Age Really Matter?
What you need to know about pregnancy in your 20s, 30s and 40s.
IF YOU’RE 26 -34
YOUR BODY} “A woman who has her first child at 34 is likely, in health terms, to be 14 years younger than a woman who gives birth at 18,” says University of Texas-Austin sociology professor John Mirowsky, Ph.D., who has led research on the subject funded by the National Institute on Aging. In other words, women who give birth in their late teens develop more health problems than those who wait until their early 30s.
True, natural fertility begins to gradually decline at 30 (the infertility rate for women age 26 to 29 is 9 percent, increasing to 15 percent for 30- to 34-year-olds), although the odds that fertility treatments will work remain high. But by delaying motherhood, women protect themselves from job, relationship and financial stresses that “make them biologically susceptible to disease and psychologically susceptible to poor health habits,” Mirowsky explains. And fortunately, your energy and stamina should still be high. However, many studies have found the Cesarean section rate to be nearly twice as high among women ages 30 to 34 versus those in their 20s.
THE BABY} Miscarriage rates rise to 12 percent to 15 percent. Down syndrome risk remains low until age 30, when it is 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 400 for any chromosomal abnormality; by 35, the risk rises to 1 in 400 and 1 in 200, respectively. Children born to mothers who were 30 or older at first delivery are more likely to score higher in high school testing, a likely effect of advanced parental education and resources, says Elizabeth Gregory, Ph.D., director of the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies program at the University of Houston.
YOUR MATURITY LEVEL} You’re in a chronological hotspot when it comes to preparing for motherhood. “You still have the youthfulness of your 20s but are moving toward the responsibility and maturity of your 40s,” observes Glazer. However, women who have spent most of their 20s in school (women account for 58 percent of adults ages 25 to 29 with advanced degrees) might want to delay pregnancy as they establish their careers.
Your body image may benefit from an age-ripened self-esteem. “In my 20s, it sucked seeing my nonpregnant friends in low-rise jeans and bikinis while I had my maternity belly,” says Andersen. “But in my 30s, I was comfortable enough with my pregnant body to wear more body-conscious clothing. And after my third baby was born, I was more comfortable with my changed body than my friends who were experiencing stretch marks and mummy tummies for the first time.”
YOUR CAREER AND FINANCES} “At this age, women often feel they’re at a crossroads, career-wise: that if they choose the mommy path and stay home, they’re saying goodbye to their career,” Bennett says. “On the other hand, there’s a tremendous amount of guilt and worry that if they return to work, their baby will bond with the day-care provider.”
Bennett suggests that you decide what is best for you and your family at this time, and make a date on your calendar in six months to reassess. “Give yourself total permission to change your mind,” she says. “That way you can stop obsessing and you’re not locked in. Don’t let fear make your decision for you—that always backfires.”
YOUR RELATIONSHIPS} Mothers in this age group frequently enjoy strong bonds with fellow moms. And assuming you and your partner are both armed with emotional maturity, your relationship is likely in prime shape to handle parenthood. On the other hand, Sandwich Generation mothers “often find themselves pulled between caring for their children and their aging parents, which can lead to burnout and depression,” Bennett notes.