Being able to create life is undeniably one of the most beautiful gifts bestowed on women, but it also comes with a very loud and constantly ticking clock. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a woman who's not uncomfortably aware of her biological clock and that her chances for getting pregnant and raising a family are up against it. But while a woman might be in her fertile prime in her 20s, this decade is not an ideal time for many women to tackle pregnancy and parenting. Some women aren't even ready in their early 30s. That's why most experts and moms alike agree that there is no perfect age to get pregnant.
"The younger you are, the less money and resources you have to take care of a child, but the earlier you are in your career to support maternity leave and time away for small children," says Wendy C. Goodall McDonald, M.D., an ob-gyn in Chicago, Illinois. "The older you are, the more money you have, but the more money it may take to pay for assistance in getting pregnant if needed." Also, Dr. McDonald points out that, the older you get, the more likely you are to find yourself in the sandwich generation, caring for aging parents and children at the same time.
Of course, the optimal time for a woman to get pregnant is when she's ready—physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially—and this time varies greatly from woman to woman. To help you determine what age might be best for you to get pregnant, we asked experts and real moms to share their seasoned and experienced opinions for every age range.
Before you're 20
Obviously, this young age range is not ideal for most women, but there's no denying that you are the most fertile that you'll ever be at this ripe age. "You are also likely at a lower weight to decrease pregnancy complication risks like gestational diabetes and hypertension," explains Dr. McDonald. "Ironically, however, preeclampsia rates are highest in the extremes of ages—teens and women in their late 30s and early 40s—so if you're under the age of 20, you're included in this risk. Financial concerns that come along with raising a child also reign supreme in this age group.
Although Phylicia I., 29, from Atlanta, Georgia, was married when she got pregnant at the age of 18, she says she still had the mindset of a child. "I was extremely emotional and confused as to how to be a mom being so young," she says. "Don't get me wrong, my children were, and still are, gifts from God and changed my life for the better, but it's hard to be a parent when you still have a lot of growing up to do yourself." She's also learned along the way that pregnancy and parenting may have been less stressful if she'd waited a bit longer to have her children because now she says she's much more knowledgeable, patient, and willing to take the time to parent.
Most women in this age range are still very fertile, with an estimated 25 percent chance of getting pregnant each month. Finances may still be a common burden, as most men and women in their early 20s are still paying student loans and shelling away little money, if any, into their savings.
Bianca D., 27, from Orlando, Florida, was 20 years old when she had her now-7-year-old daughter and 25 when she gave birth to her now 23-month-old son. Although she was still in college, she was able to complete her degree with an amazing support system. "Pregnancy was much easier on my body the first time around since I was a bit younger and more in shape," she says. "By my second pregnancy, I had transitioned from my full-time career in the marketing industry to being an entrepreneur working from home, so I was less active and my life was more stressful." She also experienced more complications and a longer recovery time with her second pregnancy, which she attributes to a combination of age and lifestyle. She believes that there is never be a "right time" to get pregnant, saying "whether it's planned or not, it won't ever be easy."
Medically speaking, much is the same in terms of pros and cons for getting pregnant in your mid-to-late 20s. Most women still have a 25 percent chance of achieving a pregnancy every month.
Krystal R., 29, from Miami, Florida, decided to get pregnant right after getting married at age 27, despite the fact that so many people advised her to wait. "What people didn't know is that my husband and I had talked about this for years—it was something we wanted," she says. "I truly loved having my daughter at 27—I felt young, confident, full of energy, and ready to be the best mom I could be."
Although Madelyn M., 30, from Atlanta, Georgia, had her first child at 28, she's still feeling the pressure, especially from family, to get started on trying for a second. "Growing up in a Hispanic family, I feel the pressure to have all of my kids before my mid-30s," she says. "Society puts so much pressure on us, but I do agree that having children in your mid-20s allows you some flexibility and doesn't make you feel that you need to pop out babies one after the other."
"Once you hit your 30s, particularly 35 and beyond, we do start seeing a diminution in fertility, but that's not an absolute—and if you are still quite busy with establishing a career, or haven't found the perfect partner, you shouldn't be pushed into getting pregnant just to have a child," says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor of ob-gyn at Yale University. "However, you also need to take into account how many kids you want."
In terms of pros, getting pregnant in your early 30s allows women a significant amount of time to enjoy their young adult years, explore their career and get to know themselves. This was the case for Kelly M., 46, from Suffern, New York, who had her first at 34. She thinks there's definitely something to be said for waiting until you're older and having other life experiences behind you. "I was definitely not ready for that type of commitment in my 20s when I still had much I wanted to accomplish and not put on the back burner until the kids were older," she says.
For Meghan E., 37, from Richmond, Virginia, getting pregnant at 32 gave her the optimal time she needed to establish her career and feel as though she was on solid ground emotionally. "There's no doubt that even in the best pregnancies and easiest of babies, you still need to cut back with your work, even temporarily, but I put about four solid years into building a name for myself, as well as a solid base of loyal clients, which allowed me to take that temporary step back when needed," she says. With that being said, she acknowledges some drawbacks to waiting until your 30s. "I knew we were only going to have 1-2 children so I didn't feel terribly rushed, but if someone does want to have more than a couple, or they are keen on really spacing out children, then you would consider starting earlier."
Unfortunately, it's true that fertility starts to decline substantially at 32, and more rapidly at 37. In addition, fertility assistance success, like IVF success rates, also start to decline, adding to the cost of treatment, points out Dr. McDonald. "Health risks also start to rise, like hypertension, diabetes in pregnancy, and preeclampsia, as well as rates of chromosomal abnormalities (though the rate is still less than 1 percent at the age of 40)." Women in this age range should consider seeking the help of their gynecologist or REI specialist after 6 months of trying.
Monica B., 43, from Northport, New York, enjoyed having her two children at 35 and 37 respectively because it gave her more time to mature and become more financially stable. "Because of where I was in my career when I had my son, I had the experience and know-how to start my own consulting business so I could be my own boss and design my own hours, which I wouldn't have been able to do a few years earlier," she says. "I would say the one downside is that I seem to have several years on all the moms around me, which makes me feel somewhat disconnected. I'd still be invited to the moms' night out kind of things, but there was always something in our conversations that underscored the age gap."
By age 40, a healthy woman's chances of becoming pregnant each month are less than 5 percent. The bigger concern within this age range, however, are the medical risks involved. "Women who are older than 40 have an increase in early pregnancy complications, such as ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages, as well as later pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, diabetes, placental problems such as placenta previa, low birth weight, and preterm labor, as well as a higher rate of fetal demise," explains Anate Brauer, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at the Greenwich Fertility and IVF Centers and assistant professor of ob-gyn at NYU School of Medicine. "All of these risks are increased if a woman has pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity." Additionally, Dr. Brauer points out, multiple pregnancies, such as twins and triplets, which are more common when undergoing fertility treatments, significantly increase these risks.
Suzana S., 43, from Astoria, New York, delivered her daughter one-month shy of her 41st birthday—and wouldn't change the timing for the world. "I'm glad I had my daughter when I did because I had given myself many years to explore the meaning of my own life and define myself," she says. "Because of my life experiences, I know I can help my daughter sift through all the noise in her life to discover what is true and beautiful for her, to live a life of purpose and love."
All in all, experts and moms agree that there's really no right answer to the question of "when is the best age to get pregnant?" Biologically, the answer is probably the early 20s, but innumerable factors must be considered, many of which differ by individual. Your best plan of action is to do what feels right for you—whatever that may be.