What's the optimal age to get pregnant and raise a child? According to a new study of first-time parents 40 years old or older, five to ten years younger is best. Eighty percent of the women and seventy-percent of the men, who participated in the small University of California at San Francisco study, said they believe the optimal age for parenting is in your thirties.
The study participants said they believe that being an older parent has certain advantages such as more maturity in making decisions, and being more emotionally prepared for parenting.
One father said, "I know that I'm way more self-aware than I was 20 years ago. I feel like I'm in a better position to communicate better with my child and help them more in life, and I understand how to be a supportive, encouraging parent."
A woman said, "I just have more confidence in myself than I did in my 20s, so I don't get fazed by as much as I might have when I was younger."
Others noted that they were more financially stable and had developed stronger relationships with their partners.
Seven of the men had older children from previous relationships. They commonly said that as older parents, they had more time available for parenting than they did when they were younger.
Also the study pointed out what the participants considered the downsides of older parenting. Women said they would have preferred to have children at a younger age if they had met their partner earlier in their lives. "I think if I could have written out the story of my life, I would have met him younger, and I probably would have had children maybe at 35," one woman said.
Most of the participants said they could not have had children earlier because of their circumstances.
Participants also said they would have had more energy for parenting if they were younger. More than a third of the women and a quarter of the men said a disadvantage was a lack of physical energy.
Other disadvantages cited were concerns about being healthy and living long enough to see their children become adults; having a smaller family than they'd wished; and feeling stigmatized for being older parents.
Nearly half of the women said they had a difficult time conceiving, and gave birth only after using in vitro fertilization (IVF) to get pregnant. Most were told at some point during the treatment that their odds were poor. As a result, many said they felt lucky and appreciative to have had a child. Half of them conceived and gave birth after only one cycle of IVF.
The study's findings were published in the journal Human Reproduction.
Most experts will agree that there is no perfect age for starting a family with the exception of teenage pregnancies. They have a higher risk of pregnancy related high blood pressure and premature births. Oftentimes teen mothers do not receive timely prenatal care. Teen mothers are less likely to complete their education.
Pregnancy in a woman's 20s,30s, 40s all have important pros and cons.
In your 20s, for instance, you'll have more energy to run after and care for your child but fewer financial resources and less personal life experience on which to draw; in your late 30s and 40s you may be more established financially but have a tougher time getting and staying pregnant and, afterward, keeping up with an active baby and toddler.
Medically, women in their 20s are at their most fertile. Fertility begins to decline at age 30, but this change happens gradually, over the next five years or so. If you need infertility treatment, your chances of success are higher than they are for an older woman. The risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy increases with age also. It is about double for women over 35 compared with younger ones; hypertension affects about 10 to 20 percent of pregnant women in this age group. Risks of chromosomal birth defects rise steadily with each year into your 40s. If you give birth at age 40, your baby has a 1 in 106 chance of being born with Down syndrome and a 1 in 66 chance of being born with any chromosomal abnormality. But by age 44, those risks rise to 1 in 38 and 1 in 26, respectively.
Most women in their mid-40s are concerned about the health of their baby as well as their own health -- with good reason, since there are increased risks for both at this age. But most pregnancies, even among women in their 40s, have good outcomes. The better you care for yourself, the more successful your pregnancy is likely to be. At age 45, there's a 1 in 30 chance of delivering an infant with Down syndrome and a 1 in 21 chance of having a baby with any chromosomal abnormality. In a 49-year-old those risks rise to 1 in 11 and 1 in 8, respectively.
Statistics show that once a woman has gotten pregnant, if she takes good care of herself and if prenatal screening tests are negative, she's much more likely to deliver a healthy baby than not -- regardless of her age. The rate of fetal deaths has dropped by about 70 percent since the 1960s. That's great news for all pregnant women.