What are the risks of having children after 35?

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What are the risks of having children after 35?

Jun 12, 2006 |Candice Watters
Question

I'm going to be turning 29 this spring and am not dating anyone, but the "not dating anyone" really doesn't bother me a whole lot. What does is having children later in life. Based on the reading I've done, there seems to be a greater risk of birth defects for women who have children after 35. Should I be concerned about that?

Answer

Thanks for writing. You're correct that the risk of birth defects is higher among women over 35. But the risk is statistical, and it's not 100 percent. Certainly it's no reason to not have children after 35 — Sarah and Elizabeth are great examples of having late-in-life babies by faith against all odds. Lots of women have babies after 35 without complication. My own mom had my youngest brother when she was 39.

I think the piece of missing information that eludes many young women in their 20s is how much the difficultly of conceiving a baby rises as they age. Women are most fertile between the ages of 18 and 25. Fertility begins a slow decline at 25 that speeds up dramatically at 35. At age 40, a woman's fertility is only 5 percent of what it was at its peak. Despite all the magazine headlines about movie stars having babies well into their 40s, the likelihood of conceiving a first child after age 40 is fairly low. What many of those news stories don't reveal is the range of expensive and often difficult infertility treatments that made those pregnancies possible. And as high-tech as infertility advancements have become, they're still no guarantee of a baby.

One highly successful educator — a chair at a top-10 university — details years of expensive, failed infertility treatments, concluding her bitter tale with the following:

You know the advice handed out to our generation was very problematic. We were told: "Do what men do. Work your tail off until you're established in your field. Sacrifice what you need to for your career." But now I think, if you want children, "cloning the male, competitive model" doesn't work.

I'm forever telling my women students: Don't be afraid of letting go of a half-built career. We are smart, well-educated and life is long. Career opportunities can be recaptured. Don't waste that small window of fertility. Don't live to regret not having had a child.Sylvia Ann Hewlett. Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children. Copyright © 2002. Talk Miramax Books. New York, p. 50.

This isn't a reason to panic, but to prepare. Often women assume they can spend their 20s pursuing their education and career and then shift their focus to getting married and family-building in their 30s. The problem is that for many women, their best opportunities and offers for marriage occur in her 20s, overlapping her prime child-bearing years.

Blessings,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2006 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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