Choosing when to start your family is a monumental decision. It means welcoming a helpless baby into the world and transitioning from a couple to a family. It’s a big deal. You have to consider your career, your partner’s, finances, housing, family support, values, and more.
My husband and I thought long and hard about what we needed in place to start our family, taking into consideration our biological clocks and our life goals. After much deliberation, I decided to put off starting our family until after earning my Master’s degree, which meant delaying motherhood until my 30s.
But some questions remained. Were we missing our window? Had we traveled enough? Learned enough? Lived enough? We knew we wanted more than one child, so did that mean we needed to start right away? How would we work the added responsibilities into our budget? Turns out opening your heart to a child is the only real requirement and is more important than advanced planning.
Like me, many couples today want to check items off their lists before starting families. What exactly is the age range that couples should become parents? It looks different now than in generations past.
Many women today are waiting until their 30s, 40s, even 50s to start families. Some want to pursue advanced education or career opportunities. Others want to travel or spend time with their partner before adding children. As the age of today’s mother increases, their needs change as well.
We did some digging into how waiting to start a family can impact your life—and your baby’s.
Why Women Wait To Have a Baby
Professional or Personal—All Have An Impact On The Future Of Your Family.
Here are a few reasons why women are choosing to have children later than previous generations of mothers. Some are professional, some are personal, but all have an impact on both parenting and family.
• Building a career - Taking time to pursue professional goals is the top reason that many women delay motherhood until later in adulthood.
• Establishing financial security - With increased professional achievement comes financial stability. Many couples wait to start a family until they have a healthy amount of savings and have debt under control. Today’s parents face record levels of student loan debt, which may delay their family plans.
• Finding the right partner - Dating has changed in recent years as well. Because young men and women are working hard in their careers, they are often left with little time to develop long-term romantic relationships. When they put off finding the right partner, delayed parenthood often follows.
• Struggling to conceive - It is a reality that many couples who want to be parents struggle to do so. Increased access to fertility treatments exist but can be costly and time-consuming. Parents who pursue this path often become parents later in life due to the fact that it can take them years to conceive. Fertility treatments can also be costly, and couples want to save up for the added expense.
What Are the Benefits of Waiting?
Waiting Can Allow Parents To Become More Financially Comfortable.
One of the most measurable benefits for waiting to start a family is the added time for career-building before having children. This means that by the time children come around, the mother is more likely to be established in her career, financially comfortable, and have options for childcare or remote-work opportunities. It also allows the mother to enter parenthood without the added stress of juggling childcare costs while in an entry-level position.
Gena Thorn, who’s 39 and lives in Virginia Beach, is expecting her first child, a boy, in February. According to Gina, the biggest difference in waiting to have a baby later in life is not having the pressure of finishing school or establishing yourself in a career. “You get to focus on the details of the baby and enjoy that time,” she said.
Having children later in life can also mean that both mom and dad have the chance to pursue more education. This translates to increased earnings potential at work, as well as a higher likelihood of educational achievement for the children. Households where the parents have a higher level of education have been shown to have more advanced vocabulary, more books in the home, and more opportunities for educational enrichment, such as trips to museums.
What Are the Challenges for Mature Moms?
Waiting To Have Children Can Mean Increased Medical Risk.
Having children later in life comes with increased medical risk, a fact that should not be ignored by potential parents or their medical team. Dr. Fred Williams of Chesapeake Regional Gynecology and Obstetrics says waiting to have children can increase a mother’s risk for fertility and pregnancy complications.
Pregnant women who are 35 years or older are considered to be of “advanced maternal age” by most physicians. Dr. Williams recommends that these patients be followed closely due to the increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and chromosomal abnormalities.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs in women of advanced maternal age two to three times as often as those who are age 30-34. The risk of diabetes, both pre-existing and gestational, increases as much as six times when the woman is in her late 30s rather then her 20s or early 30s.
“Health optimization in women contemplating pregnancy at age 35 or greater along with preconception counseling are good first steps,” said Dr. Williams. Women can take action to make sure they have healthy lifestyle habits to provide the greatest chance of a healthy pregnancy and baby. A good diet and regular exercise are important to keep anyone healthy—it becomes even more important during pregnancy.
Many potential parents express concern about their ability to keep up with young children later in life. A woman in her 50s may worry that she will struggle to keep up with the physical demands of raising a 2-year-old.
On the other hand, chasing after a toddler and enjoying fun, family exercise with young children can help older mothers lower their risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and certain cancers.
Some express concern that they won’t be around to see their children experience milestones, like graduating from college or starting their own families. But studies published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that women who had their children later had a longer life expectancy than those who finished their family building earlier. They say that children keep you young, and data shows that for many women it is true!
Fertility Options Can Assist with Conception
The New Hope Center Offers Cutting -Edge Treatments
Moms today have more options than ever to conceive. Dr. Robin Poe-Zeigler at The New Hope Center for Reproductive Medicine in Virginia Beach has been helping individuals become parents for over 20 years. The New Hope Center works with all those experiencing infertility or other obstacles to parenthood and provides cutting-edge treatment to assist with conception.
The medical care team at The New Hope Center evaluates a new patient, as well as her partner, to provide options for conception. Those options include genetic testing of embryos from a woman’s own eggs, donor eggs, or donated embryos.
Many women who are in their 30s choose to use their own eggs, along with fertility treatments, to conceive. Women in their 40s and 50s often opt to use donor eggs or donated embryos from younger women, as they are less likely to have chromosomal abnormalities. Each woman and family can explore their options and make the best decision for their family.
Women who do conceive are seen and supported by Dr. Robin and her team through their first trimester, when they are referred to obstetric care.
“I think that women get to a certain age and they think they missed their window,” said Dr. Robin. “I encourage them to at least seek a consultation and find out before they close that chapter.” Dr. Robin has helped women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s become loving mothers.
The New Hope Center also provides routine gynecologic care and exams, prioritizing developing an ongoing supportive relationship with patients as they journey through their reproductive life.
Motherhood is hard work, no matter what age a woman starts her journey as a mom. Women who become mothers later in life have additional medical and lifestyle concerns, but may benefit from greater financial and career stability.
But no matter when your baby comes, you are beginning an adventure that will be the most important one of your life. Make every moment count.
Katie Begley is a magazine and fiction writer. She is a military spouse and the mother of two energetic toddlers. Connect @kmbegley or at www.katiemelynnbegley.com.