Pregnancy in Your 20s, 30s, and 40s
Age-by-age pregnancy advice
Whether you’re in your twenties and fashioning your own life while incubating a new one, in your thirties and more established in your career, or in your forties and just starting or completing your family, every age can be a good time to have a baby.
Each stage poses its own set of physical and emotional pros and cons that can influence everything from how smooth your pregnancy is likely to be to the impact a new baby will have on your relationship. There’s no right time to have a baby—but there are simple steps you can take to stay happy and healthy at every age.
Your Body Now: “Physically, the twenties are the ideal time for pregnancy,” says Dr. Peter Bernstein, MD, an OB-GYN at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. That’s because your body is primed to handle the demands of carrying a baby.
- You’re at the lowest risk for pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, chronic hypertension, and preeclampsia.
- You’re also less likely to have a baby with Down syndrome or with spina bifida. (At 25, your risk of having a baby with Down syndrome is one in 1,250. At 35, it’s one in 378.)
- Caring for and keeping up with a baby may not be as taxing for a younger mother. “I definitely had more energy in my twenties than in my thirties and forties,” says Dr. Diane Ross Glazer, PhD, a psychotherapist in Woodland Hills, California, who speaks from experience, having had a baby in each decade.
Your Mind Now: Your marriage is new, you’re starting a career, and many of your pals don’t have kids.
- “Get emotional support from other moms-to-be,” says Shellie Fidell, a therapist at Women’s Healthcare Partnership in St. Louis, Missouri. If you don’t have any friends who are pregnant, bond with other expectant women online. It’s a great way to get parenting tips and feel part of a like-minded community sharing the same focus.
- You’re faced with juggling work and family before you’ve had time to get established. Do you forge ahead and try to do both or delay your career and/or education?
- A new baby can put stress on a young marriage. Be sure to spend time together sans baby by getting a babysitter occasionally or leaving your baby with relatives, so you can forge an identity as a couple.
Your Body Now: You’re at higher risk of developing certain complications, but the majority of healthy women still have uneventful pregnancies at this age. Here are the facts:
- Your risk of preeclampsia is higher now, as are the chances of having a baby with Down syndrome or other chromosomal abnormalities. “By age 35, the risk of chromosomal abnormalities is about one in 200, which is roughly the same risk as having a miscarriage from an amniocentesis,” says Dr. Lorraine Chrisomalis, MD, maternal fetal medicine specialist at Columbia-Presbyterian Eastside in New York City. That’s why many doctors only offer amniocentesis to women over 35.
- Women in their thirties are more likely than younger women to conceive multiples spontaneously. If you used fertility treatments, you’re more likely to have multiples than women who conceived naturally.
- You’re also more likely to have a C-section. Why? One theory: “When a woman is in her twenties, doctors tend to be more patient with a vaginal delivery and less inclined to do surgery,” says Dr. Bernstein.
Your Mind Now: Many women in their thirties feel more psychologically ready for motherhood.
- If it’s your first baby, you’ve had time for yourself and your marriage, and you’ve accomplished some professional goals. This may give you peace of mind if you want to take a break to spend time with your baby.
- You’re likely to know other pregnant women, so finding a support system shouldn’t be a problem.
- Your marriage is probably on solid footing since you’re older and more confident in yourself and in your relationship, says Dr. Margaret Howard, PhD, a psychologist at Women and Infants Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.
Your Body Now: Having a baby in your forties is common these days, and the majority of older mothers have normal pregnancies, says Dr. Bernstein. Still, the risk of complications rises after age 40.
- If you’re having multiples, there’s an increased chance of delivering preterm or low birth weight babies. The Centers for Disease Control says the youngest and oldest mothers are the most likely to deliver low birth weight infants; however, much of the elevated LBW risk among older mothers is associated with their higher multiple birth rates.
- After age 40, the rates of complications that surround physically being able to carry an unborn baby, including gestational diabetes, elevated blood pressure, and preeclampsia, dramatically rise.
- Your risk of chromosomal abnormalities continues to go up. (At 40, your chance of having a baby with Down syndrome is one in 106.)
- The good news? If you’re physically fit, eat well, and don’t have preexisting health conditions such as diabetes or hypertension, your overall risk of other pregnancy complications isn’t markedly higher than that of a woman in her twenties or thirties.
Your Mind Now: Unless you experience an unplanned pregnancy (surprise!), you’re definitely prepared to have a baby at this point in your life, particularly if you married late or if you’ve gone through years of fertility treatments. Here are some things you can expect:
- The self-confidence and perspective you’ve picked up in your life may make you more patient in dealing with a demanding newborn.
- You might have higher expectations of yourself than someone in her twenties or thirties since you’ve waited so long and perhaps invested so much to get pregnant. If you yearn for a nap or a break, get help—babies can wear out even the youngest parents, and a few hours to yourself here and there can recharge your batteries and make you feel more able to meet the demands of taking care of a little one. Also, try not to feel guilty for going back to work, missing your old, pre-baby life, or not having loads of fun every day. Remind yourself, “Your baby doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to be the perfect mother,” says Dr. Howard.
- It’s likely you won’t have as many friends with small children at this age, so don’t hesitate to make friends with younger moms. “Motherhood is the great unifier,” Dr. Howard says. “When you’re with your baby in the park, age issues sort of melt away because babies are the focus.”
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN