When Siobhan Bennett was pregnant with her two daughters during her mid 20s, she had an easy time of it, and she figured things would be the same when she was expecting her son at age 45. "No one sat me down to say, 'Look, your body's twenty years older now,'" says Bennett of Allentown, Pennsylvania. "I was far more fatigued this last time around -- the difference was night and day."
When you decide to have a baby is largely a function of where you are in life. Did you find a partner early or late? Are you planning a big family or a small one? Each age makes for a different experience. Although every woman is unique, the physical and emotional aspects of pregnancy are at least partly influenced by how old you are. Here's what you can expect.
In Your 20s: Primed for Pregnancy
From a purely physical standpoint, this is the prime time for getting pregnant -- and the earlier you are in your 20s, the faster you may conceive. The irregular cycles common in your teenage years have evened out, so ovulation is more predictable. Plus, your eggs (you're born with all you'll have) are fresh and healthy, making them good candidates for fertilization, says Geeta K. Swamy, MD, an ob-gyn at Duke University Medical Center.
Not only is it easiest to get pregnant in your 20s, it's also easier to be pregnant. "Usually, a younger body can best handle the additional load on the bones, back, and muscles during pregnancy," says Cosmas J.M. van de Ven, MD, who specializes in high-risk obstetrics at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. Your joints have been subjected to minimal wear and tear, and you're likely in the peak condition of your adult life, possibly years away from medical problems that may arise with increasing age.
And if you're young, chances are your own parents are, too -- meaning more hands-on help for you and more fun times for your children. "Not only can younger grandparents help with childcare, but it's wonderful when, in years ahead, they're still able to attend school functions or even go along on field trips," says Diane G. Sanford, PhD, coauthor of the Postpartum Survival Guide (New Harbinger).
The risk of pregnancy-related complications is generally low in your 20s, with a notable exception: preeclampsia, or pregnancy-induced hypertension. Preeclampsia is less related to age, however, than the fact that this condition usually occurs with a first pregnancy -- and most expectant women in their 20s are first-time moms, says Robert H. Berry, MD, an ob-gyn at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. You may also run a greater risk of a low birth weight baby if you've continued bad health habits from your teen years, such as smoking, poor nutrition, and risky sex that leads to sexually transmitted diseases.
While the physical factors of pregnancy generally favor a 20-something, that doesn't necessarily mean this is the decade to have a baby -- particularly if you're feeling your way into a career or a marriage. "You may not have had enough time to fulfill your own needs, such as professional success or spending time alone with your partner," says Paula Ford-Martin, author of The Everything Pregnancy Book (Adams Media).
What you lack in life experience, however, you may make up for in enthusiasm about impending motherhood. "A woman in her 20s may not spend so much time overthinking the pregnancy," says Sanford. "She may be more upbeat and less anxious about having a baby, taking the classes, and becoming a mom." And just a few years may make a big difference in your emotional preparedness. "There was no way I felt mature enough to have a baby at 21, even though I knew I wanted a family," says Heather Toto, who recently became a first-time mom at 28. "But by this time, I've been working for a few years -- I'm a middle-school teacher -- and my husband and I are more financially secure. Now the time is right."