When’s the best time to have a baby and when is it too late?
- Credit: PA
Ellen Widdup looks at the science and myths behind the age old question...when’s the best time to have a baby.
I will turn 36 a few days after this baby arrives.
Good timing if you are to believe the scaremongers who claim that post 35 your fertility rate wanes and risk factors soar.
“What a load of nonsense,” my friend told me. “You could get another one in before your time is up. Maybe more.”
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After all, at the grand old age of 50, Laura Wade-Gery, an executive director at M&S, and her husband, Simon Roberts, 67, are to become parents for the first time.
This is big news. So big it was announced on the London Stock Exchange and prompted a new surge of debate on the subject of late motherhood.
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Little wonder Laura has now retreated to her farm in the Suffolk countryside to enjoy her maternity leave in peace.
Women have babies late for all sorts of complicated reasons, and I’m in no position to speculate on Laura’s.
But I imagine for many women her age there simply hasn’t been a “right time” to go down that road.
The thing is, I don’t think there is ever a “right time” to have a baby.
Post-uni? In your first job? Or a bit later, after three years of settling down at work and making your mark?
Come to think of it, shouldn’t you climb the career ladder substantially first - six, seven, eight years’ hard graft - before taking time out to have children?
Hang on a minute. What about having kids before you even embark on the career ladder?
In your late teens when you’re a whole lot fitter and healthier?
Or - just a thought - what about leaving it for nature to decide? Stop obsessing about it and just let it happen - whenever.
That’s sort of what happened to me.
I had my daughter delightfully unexpectedly almost 10 years ago – long before my peers.
I wasn’t a teenager. But I wasn’t married, financially solvent and I hadn’t really established myself in the workplace.
I was also raised – like many an 80s child - on the gospel of Having It All.
This meant that I was bucking the trend of the rest of my generation of female graduates who knew that the template for reproduction should be career followed by nuptials and a child would be delivered by stork in a premium time slot at some point in my mid 30s.
“Are you keeping it?” said one of my incredulous peers tactlessly when I told her the news.
She couldn’t fathom swapping nightclubs for nappies.
But it was a different story at my NCT group.
“You must have bags of energy,” one 48-year-old mum said enviously. “I’ve got decades on you and it gets a lot harder as you get older.”
But after listening to the daily story-swaps, I worked out it was swings and roundabouts.
She was worried about succumbing to some ghastly age-related ailment with every passing year.
I was worried I was making a choice between my career and babies.
It concerned her that she would be collecting her pension when her son went to university.
I was upset I had never been to Glastonbury.
She hated the fact that she might not be able to provide him with a sibling.
I was jealous that she had paid into a pension scheme and bought the dream house.
Age, it seemed to me, was her mummy trump card.
Now I am not complaining. It’s horses for courses.
And motherhood didn’t alter my ambition – just my perspective.
More’s the point if it hadn’t happened then, it wouldn’t have been her.
And while you could argue that it might not have been the right time, it was certainly the right baby.
I was – and still am – also accutely aware that not all women are as lucky as I have been.
But it’s not easy for women of childbearing age to make decisions on the topic of planned parenthood when we are bombarded with so much crazy and conflicting advice.
It seems that hardly a week goes by without scientists telling us to start trying for a family or freeze our eggs.
It’s enough to get your overies in a twist.
Here’s a smattering of research from the last five years:
Age 19: The best time to have a baby, according to a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin who found that this is when “the body’s reproductive and other systems are at a youthful peak.”
Age 22: When women start to become less attractive to men… apparently.
Age 23: Time to conceieve if you want three or more.
Age 27: Want two kids? This is it.
Age 29: You should start trying for a baby now, according to top NHS gynaecologist Professor Geeta Nargund, because your fertility will reduce dramatically in the next few years.
Age 30: This is the upper limit for women to conceive easily, according to researchers from Edinburgh.
Age 32: Do not to wait beyond this age if you want even one child.
Age 34: The best age to have a baby to prevent single-parenthood, unemployment and poverty, according to the National Institutes of Ageing and Mental Health.
Age 35: Get those eggs on ice, according to a study in Barcelona.
Age 38: The age when women are most likely to gain weight. Not from being pregnant though (you’ve left it too late, remember?) Or have you?
Age 39: A glimmer of hope from San Diego’s state University which claimed it was just as easy to get pregnant at 39 as in your late 20s.
Age 40+: Your fertility has fallen by half and you only have 3% of your eggs remaining.
The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show one in 25 babies are now born to those over 40 - a four-fold increase in the past 30 years.
And let’s not forget Laura.
Surely the “right” time to start a family is when you want to.
But whatever you decide know this: it’s bloody hard work.
And this is true if you are 50 or 15.