PSA: Science Says It's Totally Fine to Have Babies After 35

Singer Carrie Underwood stated that at 35, she may have missed her chance to have a big family—and then announced her pregnancy. One mom who had her daughter in her 40s sounds off on why it was a great choice.

Pregnant Woman and Toddler Son Sitting in Grass Outside Sunlight
Photo: Natalia Deriabina/Shutterstock

When Grammy-winning singer Carrie Underwood opens her mouth, people pay attention—and not just when she sings. What she says counts, too. Case in point: In a 2018 cover story for Redbook magazine, Underwood said that she believed that she and her husband Mike Fisher may have missed their "chance to have a big family" and give her son, Isaiah Michael, siblings because she was 35. She, therefore, planned to explore her options, including adoption.

In addition to comments of support and encouragement, many of Underwood's Twitter followers expressed their feeling that she was either misguided or not sharing all the information regarding her viewpoint.

It turns out Underwood herself didn't fully agree that 35 was too late to have a baby; very soon after her cover story, she shared the exciting news that she was pregnant with her second child.

The Reality of 'Advanced Maternal Age'

It's true that pregnant people past the age of 35 are labeled as at advanced maternal age, but that doesn't mean that they can't still get pregnant and give birth. Adoption is a fine choice, but it's a mistake to let people think that it is impossible or irresponsible to conceive after 35.

Many of my friends and colleagues had their first children in their late 30s and early 40s. With a little help from modern medicine, I had my own daughter in my mid-40s as well and had a healthy—if heavily-monitored—pregnancy. And I wouldn't change a thing.

Juli Fraga, Psy.D., a San Francisco-based psychologist specializing in reproductive health, understands where Underwood was coming from and offers a bit of a science-backed reality check.

"It's normal to be concerned about later age pregnancy, and yet women at the age of 35 are generally healthy and can have babies," says Dr. Fraga. "Even with fertility issues, there are many ways to help families have children, through IVF, donor eggs, or surrogacy," she adds.

Dr. Fraga believes she knows why Underwood brought out the old belief about not being fertile after the age of 35. "She is probably responding more to the cultural message that women over 35 are no longer able to bear children, which is not true. This pre-pregnancy-related anxiety about one's fertility being finished is more of a worry than a reality."

Here is what science really says about having babies after 35.

Having babies after 35 is safe

One of the biggest fears around pregnancy after 35 is the increased risk for complications during pregnancy or genetic disorders and other conditions that could affect the baby. But science shows that many healthy parents over 35 have healthy babies.

And not just healthy babies, but according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, expecting parents just over 35 experience better overall prenatal care and pregnancy outcomes than younger pregnant parents.

Having a baby later in life is more common than it used to be

According to one study, the fastest-growing age group of birthing people stepping into parenthood is the "after 35's." Pew Research Center points out that the average age of people giving birth has increased since the 1990s. Birthing parents are delaying having children until later ages, which is a trend that is likely to continue.

Older parents might live longer

The ongoing New England Centenarian Study finds that people who gave birth after the age of 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 than those who had children younger. Maybe there is some truth to that old saying that having kids keeps you young.

And it's not just youthfulness, science shows that there is a happiness factor too. In one report published by Sage Journals, researchers looked at data across three studies and found that parents get a happiness boost thanks to having kids.

Giving birth after 35 might make you smarter

Pregnancy can be a wild ride for the human body, and it's easy to think that the lasting effects of pregnancy may be limited to stretch marks or weight gain, but it turns out that the hormonal aspect of pregnancy can have some surprising impacts later in life.

One study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that people who have birthed children can benefit from the hormones that flood the body and brain during pregnancy, which can help improve cognition including problem-solving, mental reasoning, and memory in postmenopausal stages of life.

Gone are the days when it was considered unheard of for parents to have children after the age of 35. With proper support and medical care, parents of any age have every reason to believe that they can have healthy babies. Here's wishing Carrie Underwood and her growing family all the best.

Estelle Erasmus is an award-winning journalist, writing coach, and former magazine editor-in-chief. She has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Family Circle Magazine, and Brain, Child. She teaches personal essay writing and pitching for Writer's Digest and co-hosts the podcast Freelance Writing Direct. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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