The best time for someone to get pregnant is when they're physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially ready—and that varies widely from person to person. While most people are in their reproductive prime in their 20s, that decade isn't always the best age to have kids when you consider those important variables beyond fertility. Some people simply aren't ready yet, while others are. That's why most experts and parents agree that there is no perfect age to get pregnant.
Being able to create life is undeniably one of the most beautiful gifts this world has to offer, but it also comes with a very loud and constantly ticking clock. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who really wants kids and is not uncomfortably aware of their biological and physical limitations in the race against time.
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"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, [which] supports maternity leave and time away for small children," says Wendy C. Goodall McDonald, M.D., an OB-GYN with Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "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." Many people who wait may also find that they are becoming a part of the sandwich generation, which means that they are simultaneously caring for children and aging parents.
To help you determine the age range in which it might be ideal for you to get pregnant, we asked a group of parents and health care experts for their informed guidance. Read on to find out your perfect pregnancy age.
Before You're 20
Obviously, having children in your teens is not an ideal scenario, but there's no denying that it's when your fertility peaks. "You are also likely to be at a lower weight, [which helps] decrease pregnancy complication risks like gestational diabetes and hypertension," says Dr. Goodall McDonald. Unfortunately, preeclampsia rates tend to be higher among people this age (they rise again in your late 30s and early 40s). The financial concerns that come along with raising a child can also be stressful.
At age 18, Phylicia I. from Atlanta was already married and pregnant. Looking back, she says, she had the mindset of a child: "I was extremely emotional and confused as to how to be a mom so young," she recalls, more than a decade later. "It's hard to be a parent when you still have a lot of growing up to do yourself." Phylicia calls her kids "a gift from God," but admits that everything would have been easier if she'd waited a few years until she was more knowledgeable and patient than she was as a teen.
Age 20 to 24
Most people in their early twenties are very fertile, with women having about a 25% chance of getting pregnant every month. Finances may still be a burden, though, as most people in their early 20s are paying student loans, earning less, and putting little, if any, money into their savings.
At age 20, Bianca D. was enrolled in college and pregnant with a daughter. By the time she was 25, she had a son. The Orlando mom was fortunate to have the support of friends and family, which allowed her to complete her degree. But the transitions in her life made the second pregnancy more difficult than the first, even though she was still young.
"Pregnancy was much easier on my body the first time around, since I was a bit younger and more in shape," Bianca says. "By my second pregnancy, I had transitioned from my full-time career in the marketing industry to being an entrepreneur working from home. I was less active, and my life was more stressful." That pregnancy brought more complications and a longer recovery period, she adds.
Bianca maintains that there is no "right time" for a baby. "Whether it's planned or not, it won't ever be easy," she affirms.
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Age 25 to 29
Medically speaking, the odds of getting pregnant in your late 20s are the same as they were in your early 20s, and the lifestyle pros and cons aren't much different either. But at this age, you do have more wisdom and patience for having kids.
Krystal R., from Miami, Florida, decided to get pregnant right after getting married at age 27, despite the fact that others 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."
Madelyn M. had her first child at 28, and soon wanted to try for a second. "Growing up in a Hispanic family, I feel the pressure to have all of my kids before my mid-30s," says the Atlanta mom. "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."
Age 30 to 34
"Once you hit your 30s, particularly 35 and beyond, we do start seeing a diminution in fertility—but that's not an absolute," says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University. "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. However, you also need to take into account how many kids you want."
In terms of pros, getting pregnant in your early 30s gives you a significant amount of time to enjoy your young adult years, explore your career, and get to know yourself. That was definitely the case for Kelly M. from Suffern, New York, who had her first child at age 34. She agrees that there's something to be said for waiting until you're older. "I was definitely not ready for that type of commitment in my 20s when I still had so much I wanted to accomplish first," she says.
Meghan E., from Richmond, Virginia, got pregnant when she was 32. In retrospect, she says, it gave her enough time to establish her career and feel like she was on solid ground emotionally. "There's no doubt that even in the best pregnancies and [with the] easiest of babies, you still need to cut back on work, even temporarily," she reflects. "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 step back when needed."
Meghan does acknowledge some drawbacks to getting pregnant in your 30s. "I knew we were only going to have one or two children so I didn't feel terribly rushed—but if someone does want to have more than a couple, or if they are keen on spacing out children, then you would consider starting earlier."
Age 35 to 39
People in their mid- to late-thirties should speak to a gynecologist about conceiving and consult with a reproductive endocrinology specialist after six months of trying. That's because fertility starts to decline substantially at 32, and this speeds up at 37. The same goes for the success rates of those undergoing infertility treatments such as IVF, says Dr. Goodall McDonald. "Health risks also start to rise, like hypertension, diabetes in pregnancy, and preeclampsia, as well as rates of chromosomal abnormalities."
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Monica B. from Northport, New York, enjoyed having two children at age 35 and 37 because it gave her 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," she says. "I could be my own boss and design my own hours, which I wouldn't have been able to do a few years earlier."
There was one downside, however: "I seem to have several years on all the moms around me, which makes me feel somewhat disconnected," Monica admits. "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."
Age 40 to 45
By age 40, a healthy person's chances of becoming pregnant every month are less than 5%. Medical risks are another issue: People over 40 have an increase in early pregnancy complications such as ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages, says Anate Brauer, M.D., the IVF director at Shady Grove Fertility in New York City. They are also more likely to suffer from preeclampsia, diabetes, placenta previa, low birth weight, and preterm labor, with a higher rate of fetal demise. The risks increase further if they have pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity. People undergoing fertility treatments are more likely to get pregnant with multiples, and that, too, amplifies risk.
Suzana S. from Astoria, New York, delivered her daughter a month before her 41st birthday—and says the timing was perfect for her. "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 emphasizes. "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."
With stories like these, it seems there's really no right answer to the question, "When is the best age to get pregnant?" Biologically, the answer is probably your early 20s, but this journey is highly personal and everyone is different. The best approach is to do what feels right for you—whatever that may be.