Once upon a time, women had little choice about exactly when in their life they gave birth to children. If they were sexually active and their bodies were physically able to reproduce, babies had a habit of turning up at regular intervals throughout their fertile years. Then along came scientific contraception, allowing women to not only limit the size of their family but also to postpone starting it. This choice, however, brought with it another worry. Women, and their partners, now have to decide whether it is either beneficial or harmful to delay childbearing until they reach their fourth decade.
Advantages of having a baby in your 40s
- Financially secure
Anyone considering bringing a child into the world when they have passed the age of forty is usually settled financially. Both partners may have already spent many years in their career and earned a comfortable amount of money. It is likely that they own their own home, or are paying off a mortgage. In short, unlike very young parents, they can afford the considerable expense of rearing a child from babyhood to independence, without being too stretched economically.
- Settled relationship
Not only are mature adults more likely to be financially secure, they are more likely to be emotionally secure as well, thus providing a better environment in which to raise children. Many of them have settled on the individual with whom they would like to share the task of parenting. The journal ‘The Future of Children’, published by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, states that “Teenage marriages are much more likely to end in divorce than are all other marriages. Women who marry when they are over age 30 are the least likely to become divorced.”
- Established career
Childbearing can seriously interrupt the upward trajectory of a career in its early stages, especially for women, who still spend twice as many hours a week on child care compared with men, according to a report released in 2013 by the Pew Research Center. So women who wait until their forties before having children are able to establish their career first. Then, having perhaps reached the upper levels of management, they are more likely to be able to afford the kind of child care that will allow them to resume their professional life if they wish to do so.
- Mature outlook
As well as their maturity in finances, relationships and careers, couples in their forties have well and truly graduated from the school of life. They are more likely to be able to take the ups and downs of childrearing in their stride, demonstrate more patience and impart the wisdom they have learned to their children.
But it’s not all roses and sunlight for older parents.
Disadvantages of having a baby in your 40s
- More difficult to conceive
Advancing age is one of the risk factors for infertility, especially for women. According to the Mayo Clinic, a woman’s fertility gradually declines with age, becoming more pronounced in the mid-30s. Older women’s infertility may be caused by a reduction in the number and quality of the eggs they produce, or by health problems that have an impact on fertility. So women waiting until forty before they try to conceive are more likely to expose themselves to possible disappointment.
- Health risks for mother and baby
The Mayo Clinic has more to say about pregnancy in older women, particularly mentioning the increased health risks. Older women are more likely to develop gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, while their baby has a higher risk of chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome. There is also a greater likelihood of complications which may lead to a Caesarian section, and of miscarriage. Older fathers can cause problems too. Research appears to suggest a higher rate of autism and birth defects in children born to men over the age of forty.
- Tired more easily
Sleepless nights with an unsettled and hungry infant, or busy days with a demanding toddler, are hard enough for parents in their twenties and thirties. For those who have already celebrated their fortieth birthday, the problem is far worse. Parental energy levels decline with age, and older parents usually get tired more easily. They may also not be as fit as they were when they were younger, making it harder for them to keep up with their children’s needs.
- Ready to retire just as the kids hit college
Parents who complete their family while still in their twenties or early thirties can look forward to an ‘empty nest’ stage when they are in their forties or early fifties, a time perhaps to travel or devote themselves to hobbies. Their children have completed their education, embarked on their working life and probably left home. They may even have young families of their own. Contrast this with parents who waited until they were in their forties to start a family: they face the prospect of expensive teenagers and steep college fees just when they have reached a stage where many people their age are thinking about downsizing or retiring.
- Deprived grandparents
The sight of young, active grandparents enjoying their relationship with their grandchildren brings a smile to the face. Many older people long for grandchildren to love and spoil while they are still young enough to appreciate the experience. However, a couple in their forties about to start a family may have parents already in their seventies, and these prospective grandparents could even be in their eighties if they, too, waited longer than normal before having children. Grandparents of very advanced years are more limited in the kind of activities they can share with their grandchildren, if indeed they live long enough to see them grow.
Depending on your point of view, having children may keep you young or make you age faster. There is little doubt that the older you are before you start having them, the larger the generation gap will be between you and your offspring. So, before you wait too long, consider whether you are comfortable with being mistaken for a grandparent at your child’s playgroup, and whether you will still be able to empathize with your teenagers when you are sixty. If the answer to both questions is positive, then there is no reason why you cannot make a success of being an older parent.