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The Best Age to Become 'Mom'?

First-time moms are statistically getting older. That's the news out of a report being released today by the National Center for Health Statistics. In 1970, the average age of a first-time mom was 21.4. In 2006, that number jumped to 25.

One of the most interesting statistics involves the proportion of first births to women aged 35 years and over between '70 and '06. Using the most recent data, 1 out of 12 first births were to women aged 35 and older as compared with 1 out of 100 in 1970. And, despite all the continuing concerns about teen moms, first births to mothers under the age of 20 have dropped from 36 percent to 21 percent in those 26 years.

Moms on both ends of the age spectrum regularly make the headlines. Last month, a woman who gave birth to twins at the age of 66 died, leaving her 3-year-old sons behind. The woman, Maria del Carmen Bousada, had lied about her age to obtain infertility treatments.

"I think everyone should become a mother at the right time for them," she told the British tabloid News of the World when her sons were 1-month old.

On the other end of the spectrum, of course, are recent famous teen pregnancies from Bristol Palin and Jamie Lynn Spears. Palin told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren that she wished she'd had her son around age 28 instead of 18:

"I wished it would have happened in, like, 10 years so I could have a job and an education and be, like, prepared and have my own house and stuff. But he brings so much joy, I don't regret it at all. I just wish it would have happened in 10 years, rather than right now."

How old were you when you first became a parent? Do you think there's a "right" age or time to have children?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  August 12, 2009; 12:00 PM ET  | Category:  Newsmakers
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When I was 22, I got rid of my diaphragm. I was married, in Air Force tech school with orders for my permanent base, and I was ready to start a family.

After ten years, including a divorce, remarriage, completely unsuccessful fertility treatments, and the last three years spent coming to accept kids weren't in my future (checking out adoption criteria and learning that DH and I likely wouldn't qualify) - I found out I'd *finally* conceived.

I was 33 when older son was born, and 38 when younger son completed our family. We almost added one more kid when I was 42, but that one miscarried.

For us, the right time / right age was whenever my ovaries decided to work. Others get to choose when to have a first or later child, and they can judge for themselves better than I possibly could, whether "now", "sometime", "later" or "not at all" is the right time in their circumstances.

Posted by: SueMc | August 12, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Honestly, I think biologically there is little doubt, best with first child btw age 20 and 30 (roughly) and generally best to have all children by about 35 (though previous pregnancies tend to make later pregnancies easier in a sense). However, biology is one thing, individual lives another, and if you are childless at 38 and have the wish and opportunity to have the children you didn´t have earlier, why not, as long as you are aware of the risks. I don´t favor artificially restarting the womb after the natural age for menopause though. Maybe for a woman who got early menopause before age 35, say, but not for one who passed menopause after age 45. I just don´t believe that the woman is physically likely to be up to the challenge over the years.

Personally, I liked accepting biology, finished higher education in my early twenties to allow me to have children in my mid-late twenties. They are 4, 2½ and ½ year old now and I am 30, for me, that´s ideal, but then I had the luck of finding the right man at the right time.

Posted by: Mmex | August 12, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

The age is very regional. I had my son at 25 in the DC area and felt like a pregnant teenager. Most of my son's friend's mothers (my peer group) are 10 years older than me. One is even 20 years older. When I travel, I find a lot more moms my age.

Based on my experience, I'd guess the average age for a first time mom in DC is 33-35.

Posted by: mdem929 | August 12, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

"For us, the right time / right age was whenever my ovaries decided to work."

'Nuff said. Life is far too complex to boil down into a single "right" answer.

Posted by: laura33 | August 12, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

I waited until I completed grad school, got married, and worked at my job for a year (to qualify for FMLA) before getting pregnant with my first child at age 27.

I knew that I didn't want to be a young mother, but I also didn't want to have to worry about the possible quality of my eggs or trouble conceiving as an older mother. The timing was just right for our family.

Posted by: viola1 | August 12, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

The happiest moms I know are women who had children not at a certain age, but after they had a good marriage, an education/trade training that had/could provide a decent income, and the full knowledge that children meant personal sacrifices.

Posted by: NutritionistMom | August 12, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I think the right age depends on the woman. I was 18 when I became pregnant with my first. I turned 19 before he was due and delivered him stillborn 12 days before my due date because of a cord accident. I became pregnant again at 20, 22, 24, and 26 and delivered my healthy babies via c-section. I opted for a tubal when my last was born, so at 27 I have finished having babies before many women have even started.

I'm very happy with the age we started our family. No regrets. Our children will be in college long before we retire (I'll be 44 when my youngest graduates from HS).

A lot of people express shock when they learn that my husband and I are 27 with 4 kids. But I'm not sure I could handle all four of them at an older age! My parents are in their early 50s and are ready to hand them back after a weekend. I think it's selfish to have babies too late in life. But who am I to tell a woman that she shouldn't have a child?

Posted by: MEALmama | August 12, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

but then I had the luck of finding the right man at the right time.

Posted by: Mmex

Personally, I believe finding someone and getting married at a decent age is something you accomplish the same as any other life achievement. Some luck is involved but one can decide what to do with their spare time. I think so many people just waste time with people they know aren't right with them then complain later when they finally meet the right person that it wasn't their fault that it took so long and now they are in their 30s and having problems having kids etc.

Posted by: sunflower571 | August 12, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

I had my kids at 30 and 33, married at 28. We decided to get pregnant after we bought a house and both changed jobs to something we enjoyed. It could have happened at 25 or 35 if circumstances has been different.

Several of my friends had kids at 17, 18, 20 and 21. Some were glad they were young when they had their children, some had the Bristol Palin mentality and some had second families with second husbands. None of them regret having their kids despite the struggles. I can say the same about most people I know that waited till their late 30's - it may not have been ideal but they aren't living in "what if" land. Heck, most people I know are too busy enjoying their lives to be worrying about this stuff.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | August 12, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

My wife was in her late 30s when we had our first, which was a much better decision than doing it 10 years earlier. A good friend had her first at 22 and couldn't be more pleased; some moms don't have things figured out ahead of time but make it work just great.

I think the last 20 years have been an age of parenthood by choice and women have unprecedented discretion about when to have start having kids, when to stop having kids and whether to have kids at all. Teen moms are not banished to homes for unwed mothers and receive some government support. Birth control is available, although not perfect. Fertility treatments, prenatal testing and early pregnancy termination are legal (in most places) and not uncommon. Women give up children for adoption (do we have a better term for that?) and families bring those children into their families. It's a total liberal Kumbaya paradise. Oops, I probably shouldn't have put it that way.

Posted by: KS100H | August 12, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Like everyone said, there is no universal right age. It is healthiest to have your children in your 20s but lots of people are not in the right circumstance to start a family.

I had my daughter when I was 33 and my son when I was 37. I was married when I was 30. We tried to have another baby when I was 35 but it took a while to get pregnant with #2. Got pregnant in two weeks with my first baby.

My OB/GYN told me that the largest age bracket for first time moms in the DC area is 30-35 and nationally it is 25-30. But that is generally viewed as DC area has a larger percentage of educated people (as well as educated females) than the rest of the country. Not surprising, that more educated women postpone child bearing in search of mate, maturity, education, and career advancement.

Posted by: foamgnome | August 12, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Not surprising, that more educated women postpone child bearing in search of mate, maturity, education, and career advancement.

I agree that it is hardly wise to have a kid when you are say 18 and may not have much education or a successful mate. However, I think women are shooting themselves in the foot to wait until their late 30s when they may start having problems having kids. By much earlier you can have grad school done, a career underway and still have healthy eggs.

Posted by: sunflower571 | August 12, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Like mdern929 I had my son mid-twenties and felt like an outcast in this area. There I was driving around in a beater with a carseat and my friends were all driving new cars and vacations.

Fast foward - I'm early 50s seeing the last child graduating from college driving around in a new car and using my vacation for fun events.

I think mid-20s is best. It's easier to finish school without a family but you miss any biological clock problems.

Posted by: RedBird27 | August 12, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I just had our second child 4 weeks ago. She was 36 when she had our first and 38 with our second. We married two years before having our first.

There were lots of difficulties on both pregnancies, mostly due to pre-eclampsia. Both sons were early and my wife needed to be put on bed rest both times. Older age can be a factor in this. Drs don't know for sure.

We are definitely part of the trend mentioned in the post. Upside is this was planned and we were both ready to be parents. Even better is the fact that our careers and finances are more settled than when we were younger. I felt gratitude for that a few weeks ago as we were rocking our child to sleep. Fewer financial worries is a good thing when you are looking at your infant son.

Downside is the age. I worry about keeping up as I age and wonder what it will be like when I reach 50 and 60. I don't want to shortchange our kids at all. I've gone back on an exercise schedule and my wife is joining me once she fully recovers from the C-section.

I do wish I was 10 years younger, having what I have now. I felt invincible then and now, not so much.

Posted by: Dadat39 | August 12, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

sunflower: I didn't say it was recommended to postpone child bearing. I said it was not surprising. Meaning it is not a surprising statistics. Education is very highly correlated with delayed age in marriage and children. And obviously they spend more time educating themselves.

I think fertility in your 30s should never be taken for granted. I think the stat I read that a 33% of women in their 30s have some fertility issues. But the reverse of that, and 67% do not. So it is still statistically probable that you will have no trouble conceiving after the age of 30. And the risks do not increase significantly till after 35. Risks are higher for first time mothers 35+.

Most of the women I know who had serious fertility problems begin having problems in their late 20s. Of course this is just from the small sample of women I know. But age and fertility are closely correlated. But a lot of fertility problems actually start in their 20s but women don't attempt pregnancy till late 20s early 30s. Like tubal blockage, a common cause of infertility, is not age related.

Posted by: foamgnome | August 12, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

What a silly question. Obviously there is a right age in terms of medical science, but the age for each individual varies depending on their path in life.

A better question would be how our society could make changes in order to promote childbirth during the best medical age, i.e 20-30, as opposed to the current system which encourages working mothers to delay until their 30s and 40s. Sweden seems to do well by subsidizing childcare for everyone, but I doubt the public will be very receptive to another entitlement program given the current concerns with expanind healthcare benefits.

Posted by: Boraxo1 | August 12, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Age-wise, we fall right in line with the DC average. However, we weren't truly ready for kids until we had our dog for a year. Seriously. The commitment to walks, feedings, vet visits, and the like was a useful way to understand how our lives would change, albeit with even more responsibility, stress, loss of sleep, and--undeniably--joy.

Posted by: OneSockOn | August 12, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

It's interesting to read the posts by women who are glad to get the kids out of the house when they're still in their 40's. While I understand that, I did the reverse.

I did a lot of really fun travel and stuff when I was in my 20's, and I wouldn't change it for a minute. I'm 40 now and couldn't travel in the same way I could 20 years ago (with a light backpack, taking 3rd class trains in India, for example).

I had my kids at 34 and 36 with zero fertility issues. I'm in the lucky 67%, I guess. I don't think women should assume it will be that easy for them, but neither should they be frightened into having children before they're completely ready. Some people just happen to be ready for this immense life change sooner than others!

Posted by: Jaybird5 | August 12, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

A better question would be how our society could make changes in order to promote childbirth during the best medical age, i.e 20-30, as opposed to the current system which encourages working mothers to delay until their 30s and 40s.

I don't see what "society" has to do with when you have kids. With some planning and responsibility you can be financially ready to have kids before your 30s or 40s. I agree with the posts that you need to be financially ready.

Posted by: sunflower571 | August 12, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

The best age to have children is when you and your partner are financially, emotionally and practically able to support a baby.

I am 28 and pregnant with my first child, which I will have when I am 29. My husband is 36. We have both finished our education and are well established in our jobs. We just built a new house and are comfortable that our income can support a baby with little stressing about money. We are both at a point in our lives where we are mature enough to put the child before all else, and to devote to it the time and attention it both needs and deserves.

This is what is right for us. But I understand that sometimes baby doesn't come along at "the right age" and that parents roll with it and do the best that they can.

Posted by: danilynn17 | August 12, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

mdem929 & RedBird27: I had the same experience. I had my first at 27 and I feel like I'm the youngest mother at daycare. I am a full time working professional with a doctoral degree, yet I definitly get the unwed pregnant teenager feeling since we live in DC. I'm sure this feeling is a residual effect from someone insinuating that I was too young when I got married... at 26. However, for now, it's largely in my head, and all the other parents at daycare are great. Money is tight for my husband and I, but we have educations, steady jobs, and a strong relationship, which made anytime a great time to have kids.

Posted by: isiluv24 | August 12, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

I had DD at age 35 and DH was 43. I wanted DH to play with his daughter and not feel too old. The biggest transition he had was coming from a family of boys and a DD who likes to play with basketballs and have her teddy bears teas.

I have more patience than most youngest mothers I know many of whom do it alone.
I also have less energy but know when to quick it into high gear and when I afford to take it a little easier.

I can not imagine life without being a mom.
It is not always easy but I can not wait for the next adventure to begin.

Posted by: shdd | August 12, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

These types of questions and discussions ignore a very important part of the equation - finding the right mate. I'm 31 and single. I would love to have had a kid by now or on the way, but it hasn't been in the cards. Becoming a parent in your 20s or early 30s isn't always your own decision, and we should not be made to feel bad or insecure about it. I'm not going to marry the next dude who comes around just because I'm in my 30s and should be having kids now - I'm going to wait for the right person.

Posted by: lgc77 | August 12, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

@lgc77 - Just so. I was in my mid-30s (36) when I met the future Mrs. Blade, who was in her late 20s at the time. We dated for a year, were engaged for a year, married for a year before starting to try, went through a miscarriage and finally conceived twins. So, I was 41 when Primo and Secondo were born.

Did I want to become a "late" father? Nope. I just had some maturing to do. Moving abroad for a few years was a great experience and forced me to become a lot more outgoing. I figure Americans are still having kids, just doing it a little later. Young parents have advantages (especially energy), older parents have advantages (more life experience). Both sets can be great parents.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | August 12, 2009 8:22 PM | Report abuse

I had spent the bulk of my life on the fence about having kids. It had only been in my mid to late 30s that I had thought that perhaps I might like kids. I was dating a guy who I was planning on marrying (and supposedly he was planning on marrying me) but it fell apart when I was 38. At that point, I rather figured that kids were not in my future.

Now that I have 2 step-children, I am fairly content with the situation and not dying for children of my own.

Sometimes it has nothing to do with what the right time is and everything to do with how your life plays out.

Posted by: Billie_R | August 13, 2009 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Don't forget that fathers 33 and older have more offspring with autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and many, many other de novo gene disorders. Remember to consider the Paternal Age Effect. See the extensive article with references in Wikipedia.

Posted by: les2 | August 13, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I had my kids when I was 32 and 34. It was the right time for my husband and I. We married at age 29 and wanted time to settle in as a couple before we had kids (I was a honeymoon baby for my parents and I always felt it made it difficult for my parents).

Interesting topic. I think it's different for everyone.

Posted by: soleil2000 | August 13, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I was 32 and 34 when I had our girls, pregnant within the first month of trying (including my first pg, a miscarriage). I married at 27, so we could have started sooner, but we weren't ready. I'm so glad to have had my hell-raising 20s, a long time with just me and my husband, and then the girls before 35. Other than the miscarriage, all the stars have aligned nicely.

I agree with the others: the right time isn't an age, it's when you're ready. And sometimes biology doesn't agree with you.

Posted by: atb2 | August 13, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

There is no "best time" to have a good child. In fact, children to older parents tend to be mellower, smarter, and more adaptive.

Posted by: greg3 | August 13, 2009 6:18 PM | Report abuse

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