Is There a Perfect Age to Have a Baby?

Starting Early: Your 20s

These peak childbearing years are still the most popular time to have a baby, though the average age is inching up. In 1970, American women typically had their first child at 21 -- today, most of us are just shy of 25 on the big day. And as you've likely heard, the younger you are, the smoother your pregnancy will be. "Because your eggs are young and more likely to be healthy, it's generally easy to conceive now," says Jennifer R. Niebyl, MD, professor and head of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinic, in Iowa City.

High-quality eggs also translate into a lower risk of birth defects; at 25, the likelihood of having a baby with Down syndrome is about 1 in 1,250. The chances that you'll miscarry are also minimal, since carrying a fetus with Down syndrome or another chromosomal disorder is often the reason women lose a pregnancy, notes Dr. Niebyl.

Like many women who conceive for the first time in their 20s, Cassie Lyons, 24, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, knows she has it pretty easy. Currently in her seventh month of pregnancy, Lyons admits she's felt more tired recently but hasn't had to adjust her life beyond going to bed earlier. "I started a family now because I'd like to have two or three kids by my mid-30s, but I didn't want to cram them in," she says.

Steven Goldstein, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University Medical Center, adds that women Lyons's age are also more likely to have a smoother time recovering from birth. "The older you are, the harder it is to bounce back," he says.

Age may also affect your delivery experience. According to a recent March of Dimes study, 80 percent of women in their 20s give birth vaginally, compared with 40 percent of women in their 30s and 43 percent in their 40s. "Vaginal deliveries are more common in younger women because their bodies have more muscle tone in the uterus and abs. This makes pushing easier," says Dr. Schwarz.

In fact, the only con Dr. Goldstein cites for twentysomething moms is that "societal norms have outpaced evolutionary ones. Younger bodies are better able to handle the physical demands of pregnancy, but you may not feel financially or psychologically prepared to be a parent at that stage," he says.

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