Does Age Really Matter?
What you need to know about pregnancy in your 20s, 30s and 40s.
IF YOU’RE 35 -40
YOUR BODY} One in 5 women in this age group will have trouble conceiving, with fertility nosediving at 38. Still, more children are now born to women 35 and older than to teenagers, according to a 2010 Pew Research Center survey. In fact, 1 in 7 U.S. births is now to women 35 and older (in 1970, it was just 1 in 100).
Hypertension affects 10 percent to 20 percent of pregnant women in this age group (versus 4 percent to 7 percent for women ages 20 to 25); gestational diabetes is two to three times more common in women age 35 and older than in younger women; and recent studies show the risk is even higher if the woman has gained weight over the years. Maintaining an ideal weight through exercise and healthy eating offers some protection.
THE BABY} One in 4 pregnancies among women in this age group will end in miscarriage, and the risk of chromosomal abnormalities goes up exponentially: At 38, the risk of any chromosomal abnormality is 1 in 100. While you can’t prevent such abnormalities (aside from using donor eggs), accurate prenatal screening and diagnostic tests do exist. Women age 35 and older are more likely to conceive twins, regardless of whether they use fertility treatments, because hormonal changes increase the likelihood of multiple egg release during ovulation.
YOUR MATURITY LEVEL} Susan Lusty, 46, of Seattle, is happy she waited until age 38 to become a mom. “I had a life full of travel and adventure before having kids,” she says. “I would have felt like I was missing out on the world if I had been saddled with a child in my 20s or early 30s.” Gregory says this was a common sentiment among the 113 35-plus-year-old women she interviewed for her book Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood (Basic Books): “You have a sense of having seen the world and grown through your responses, so when you’re ready to start a family, you bring more resources. You know yourself better.”
But knowing yourself better means knowing what you like, and Gregory says older women may struggle with adapting to a new lifestyle, one that may require you to skip the yoga class you’ve faithfully attended twice a week for the past decade. Combat any resentment by recasting your new schedule in a positive light: Soon you’ll be able to teach your 3-year-old how to Downward Dog.
YOUR CAREER AND FINANCES} By this point, you are likely to own a home and are able to start saving for your child’s education. You’ve carved out your career niche and proven yourself at work. Lusty, who had been vice president at two public relations firms before her son’s arrival, says she didn’t fear a mass exodus of clients when she got pregnant because “they knew I’d be back.” After his birth, she worked from home—a nonexistent luxury when she was younger and trying to prove herself at an agency.
YOUR RELATIONSHIPS} Your parents are likely retired or about to be, which means they might be freed up to help you. Eighty-five percent of women older than 35 are married, so ideally you’ll have your partner’s physical and emotional support. You’ve watched some friends raise their families and learned from their successes and mistakes, notes Gregory, who had her first child at 39. (Her grandmother had her eighth baby at the same age!) “Draw on them as allies,” she says. “They can offer valuable input on their decision-making processes.”
Then again, with more women delaying childbirth, you’ll benefit from a community of women who are figuring out older motherhood alongside you. Cathy Gast Feroe, 62, from Larkspur, Calif., gave birth at 24, 25 and 39 and cherished this sense of camaraderie after her third delivery: “I feared I’d be the oldest mom on the playground, but I met so many other women having babies in their late 30s after pursuing further education and careers who could now take quality time for themselves and their babies.”