Emerging Motherhood

Pregnancy in your 20s, 30s and 40s.

Whether you’re in your 20s, and fashioning your own life while incubating a new one, in your 30s and more established in your career, or in your 40s and just starting or completing your family, every age can be a good time to have a baby.

Yet every 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.

20s

Your Body Now: “Physically, the 20s are the ideal time for pregnancy,” says Peter Bernstein, M.D., 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 pre-eclampsia.
  • 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).
  • Once your baby is born, caring for and keeping up with her may not be as taxing for a younger mother. “I definitely had more energy in my 20s than in my 30s and 40s,” says Diane Ross Glazer, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Woodland Hills, CA, 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. If you don’t have any friends who are pregnant, bond with other expectant moms online. It’s a great way to get parenting tips and feel part of a like-minded community who share the same focus.
  • You’re faced with how to juggle 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 be stressful on a new marriage. Given that, be sure to spend time as a couple sans baby by getting a babysitter occasionally or leaving your baby with relatives, so you can forge an identity as a couple.

 30s

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 gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia 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 Lorraine Chrisomalis, M.D., maternal fetal medicine specialist at Columbia-Presbyterian Eastside, in New York City. That’s why many doctors only offer amniocentesis to women over 35.
  • 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 20s, 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 30s feel more psychologically ready for motherhood. Consider this.

  • 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, points out Margaret Howard, Ph.D., a psychologist at Women and Infants Hospital, in Providence.

40s

Your Body Now: Having a baby in your 40s is common these days, and the majority of older mothers have totally normal pregnancies. 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.
  • 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 20s or 30s.

Your Mind Now: 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 20s or 30s since you’ve waited so long and perhaps invested so much to get pregnant. If you yearn for a nap or a break, don’t hesitate to get help. A few hours to yourself here and there can do wonders to refresh your batteries and make you more up for 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.”