Deciding the right time to get pregnant is probably one of the most important decisions a woman has to make as it affects every aspect of her daily life. There are many factors to consider when making this life-changing decision and a woman’s age can generally reveal what’s really going on in her life at that time.
Ages 20 – 24
- most fertile years because eggs are still comparatively young
- good chance of getting pregnant
- not at risk for hypertension during pregnancy
- low risk of miscarriages – 9.5%
- low risk of birth defects such as Down Syndrome (1 in 1,667)
- less likely to give birth with chromosomal abnormalities (1 in 526)
- optimal fitness, making delivery easier
- decreased risk for breast and ovarian cancer
- more concerned with looks and weight
- is still in need of a social life
- relationship with a partner may still not be stable
- still focused on career goals
- is not yet financially stable
Ages 25 – 29
- still a low risk of miscarriages (10%)
- still a low risk of birth defects such as Down Syndrome (1 in 1,250)
- low risk of conceiving a baby with chromosomal abnormality (1 in 476)
- still relatively fit in terms of having a child for the first time
- relationship with a partner may be more stable
- self satisfied
- can manage time more easily
- able to prioritize family’s needs
- higher chance of having achieved career goals
- more equipped financially
Ages 30 – 34
- chances of success are higher if undergoing treatment for fertility (25 to 28%)
- chances of cesarean section are twice as high as for women in their 20s
- fertility begins to decline
- miscarriage rate – 11.7%
- risk of Down Syndrome (1 in 952)
- risk of having a baby with chromosomal abnormality (1 in 385)
- emotionally ready to start a family
- still has the energy to take care of a toddler
- financially stable
- usually at the peak of one’s career, hence might have a hard time leaving one’s job if needed
Ages 35 – 39
- fertility continues to decline
- risk of high blood pressure is doubled
- risk of hypertension (10 to 20 %)
- gestational diabetes is two to three times more common
- labor tends to take longer
- amniocentesis or some other prenatal screening may be recommended
- risks of Down syndrome or chromosomal disorders begin to rise significantly
- chance of having multiple births increases significantly
- miscarriage rate rises to 18 %
- stillbirths are about twice as high
- prone to stress and anxiety
- prone to midlife crisis
- unsure of one’s ability or patience to care for a toddler
- can opt to leave work to spend more time at home
Ages 40 – 44
- pregnancy produces estrogen that has beneficial effects on the heart, bones, and other organs
- may be more prone to hemorrhoids
- displacement of tissues in the uterus and vagina
- muscles and other tissues are less elastic
- most pregnancies end in miscarriage
- many infertility clinics reject patients older than 39
- has more experience and maturity needed to raise a child
- anxiety over generation-gap issues
- anxiety over the possibility of early demise and inability of seeing the child through or beyond his teens
- fatigue seems to be more pronounced
- financially stable and able to provide for the needs of a growing child
- fear of being retired and no longer financially able to support child through college
The pros and cons of getting pregnant during these different stages show that there is no such thing as the perfect age to get pregnant. The right time ultimately depends on your priorities. What’s important is that the choice is yours and that you are mature enough to take on the responsibilities and the consequences of your decisions, whatever your circumstances may be.
Birth defects – What medication are you taking?
Every day millions of prescriptions are filled in the US. Some of these are for women of childbearing age, usually defined as between 15 and 45 years. These are the years during which most pregnancies occur. It is common practice to recommend effective contraception for women of childbearing age when prescribing medication that has the potential to cause birth defects – or is it?
A recent study has suggested that some women are taking medication prescribed by their doctor that has the potential to cause birth defects (ie they are teratogenic) without being counselled on the need for contraception while taking the drugs. About 1/6 of the women studied received potentially teratogenic drugs and about half of these received no contraceptive advice. And yet these women were just as likely to get pregnant as the women who took safer drugs. The study was carried out with 488,000 women over the course of a year. Just imagine how many women that works out to be if you consider that this is happening in the whole of the United States!
Half of the pregnancies in the US are unplanned, so even if you’re not planning a pregnancy you are still at risk. If you’re using birth control, you need to make sure it’s effective. If you are between 15 and 45 years old, you need to ask the doctor if your prescription is associated with any risk of birth defects. If you are not on and do not wish to use contraception or maybe you’re trying to get pregnant, your doctor may be able to prescribe a safer alternative.
The greatest number of unplanned pregnancies occur in teenagers. The age group with the second largest number of unplanned pregnancies is…. women in their late 30s and early 40s. This might be less surprising if you understand what is going on at this time.
Why you should not go off birth control pills during perimenopause
From the age of 35 your fertility begins to decline and some women may start to experience perimenopausal symptoms in their late 30s but more commonly in their 40s. As you age the quality of your eggs decreases. This is one of the reasons that congenital abnormalities like Down’s Syndrome are more common in older mothers. Ovulation becomes irregular i.e. some months you ovulate and some months you don’t. (Read more about symptoms of menopause and perimenopause).
Unfortunately there’s no way to know for sure if you’re going to ovulate in any given month and if you’re not consistent with your birth control, effectiveness is greatly reduced.
So if you don’t want to get pregnant you need to continue with whatever birth control method you are currently using until menopause, i.e. when it’s been 1 year since your last period. Stopping your birth control pill before menopause greatly increases your chances of getting pregnant.
Other advantages of not going off oral contraceptives before menopause
Before menopause there is marked fluctuation in the level of sex hormones in the body as ovarian function begins to wind down. One of the benefits of staying on your birth control pill is that it helps to level out your hormone levels so they don’t see-saw up and down as they would otherwise. This means that you will be protected from some perimenopausal symptoms you would have experienced otherwise.