When celebrity moms like Halle Berry and Madonna can conceive and give birth well past 30, it feels safe to kick the whole “do I want kids?” issue a bit further down the line. But the fact is, age is one of the biggest factors in your fertility chances. Does that mean panic, quit your job, and immediately start trying to conceive? Well, no, not necessarily. Let’s wade through some of the myths and facts of the best time to have a baby.
What is “childbearing age”, anyway?
“Childbearing age” seems like a fuzzy term, but it has a particular age range: 15 to 44 years. The refers to the age range during which women are theoretically able to naturally conceive and give birth to a child. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re equally likely to conceive and give birth to a healthy baby at Ages 15 through 44.
Teenage moms, for example, are at a high risk for premature labor, and their babies are at a greater risk of low birth weight than the children of older moms. On the other hand, pregnant moms over the age of 35 are less like to conceive, and more likely to miscarry. Their uteruses are less efficient than younger women, and there is a higher chance of birth defects. So, with that in mind, is there an ideal age to get pregnant?
What’s the best age to get pregnant?
Female fertility is a finite thing. (Male fertility also declines with age.) A woman is born with all the egg cells she’s ever going to have. As she ages, those egg cells die off, decreasing in quantity with each menstrual cycle. The egg quality also declines with age. The remaining egg cells of older women are more likely to be affected by chromosomal abnormalities.
Fertility isn’t just to do with the ovaries, either. As you get older, the risk that you have been affected by conditions like fibroids or endometriosis increases. This can also have an impact on your ability to conceive and carry a pregnancy.
Putting all these factors together, we can come up with some numbers:
- Your most fertile years are in your early 20s.1
- Most women between 20 to 35 years will get pregnant within a year of trying.2
- Female fertility sharply declines after the age of 35.3
- At Age 40, you only have a 5% chance of getting pregnant.4
What if the best age to have a baby is too soon for me?
There are many reasons you might want to delay pregnancy. What if you’re busy with work for the next 10 years? What if you didn’t meet Mr. (or Ms.) Right until 35, and you’re only ready to start a family now? Real life doesn’t always follow your biological clock.
Despite the health risks, some would argue that older motherhood has its advantages, too. Older moms tend to be better educated, and have more financial resources by the time their babies are born. They are also more likely to be financially and socially stable, and some studies suggest that their children tend to do better in school. These social benefits, however, do need to be weighed against the health risks and diminished fertility of later motherhood.
Make an informed decision about the best age to have kids
Only you will know when the time is right for you to have a baby. It’s true that many older women can go on to get pregnant and have healthy babies. However, it’s important to be realistic about age-related fertility decline. Natural fertility doesn’t last forever, and that ought to be a factor in your decision-making.
After learning the limits on natural fertility, you might consider trying to conceive sooner rather than later. Still, you should be the one making decisions about your body and your life. Even if you’re still not sure when you want to have a baby, one of the best steps you can take is to get regular check-ups with from doctor and gynecologist. This can help you stay informed about your health and discuss what steps you can take to preserve your fertility for when the time is right.