Technically, women can get pregnant and bear children from puberty when they start getting their menstrual period to menopause when they stop getting it. The average woman’s reproductive years are between ages 12 and 51.
Your fertility naturally declines as you get older, which could make it harder for you to conceive. And starting a family later in life could pose greater risks for pregnancy complications.
Experts say the best time to get pregnant is between your late 20s and early 30s. This age range is associated with the best outcomes for both you and your baby. One study pinpointed the ideal age to give birth to a first child as 30.5.
Your age is just one factor that should go into your decision to get pregnant. You also need to consider your emotional and financial readiness to start a family. That timing is unique for each woman.
Women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have — about 2 million of them. Your number of eggs gradually falls over the years.
By age 37, you’ll have about 25,000 eggs left. By age 51, you’ll only have 1,000 eggs left. That might still sound like a lot of eggs, but the quality of your eggs also goes down as you age.
Your risk for developing conditions that can negatively impact fertility, like endometriosis and tubal disease, also increases as you get older.
Because of these factors, your fertility begins to gradually decline at around age 32. Starting between 35 and 37, fertility begins to drop more quickly.
Your chance of getting pregnant decreases as you get older. After three months of trying, your odds of conceiving in during your next cycle are:
- 18 percent at age 25
- 16 percent at age 30
- 12 percent at age 35
- 7 percent at age 40
Other factors may reduce your chances of getting pregnant, including:
Women in the United States are waiting longer than ever to get pregnant. The average age of first-time moms is nearly 27, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Birth rates have risen among women in their 30s and dropped among those in their 20s.
Benefits of delaying starting a family
Waiting to start a family can have some benefits. You’ll have more time to save up money, establish your relationship, and become more financially secure for your child.
Age can also bring wisdom and patience. And there’s some evidence that children born to older parents achieve higher levels of education.
Holding off on pregnancy might have advantages for you, as well. A 2012 study suggested that women who gave birth to their last or only child at age 40 or older had a lower risk for uterine cancer.
Benefits of having children at a younger age
Being a younger mother is more beneficial to your baby’s health. Your odds of conceiving are increased in your late 20s or early 30s. Getting pregnant during this time also reduces your chances of having a pregnancy complication.
Risks of getting pregnant at age 35 and older
Starting at age 35, these pregnancy risks become more common:
- gestational diabetes
- high blood pressure
- placenta previa
- premature birth
- need for a cesarean delivery
- heavy bleeding after delivery
- infant low birth weight
- chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome
Fertility issues are very common. More than 12 percent of women have difficulties getting pregnant. If you haven’t been able to get pregnant, a fertility specialist can do tests to see why you’re not conceiving and offer treatments to improve your odds of a pregnancy.
See a fertility specialist if:
- You’re age 35 or younger and you’ve been trying to get pregnant for a year.
- You’re over age 35 and you’ve been trying for more than 6 months.
- You’re over age 40 and you’d like to start a family.
The fertility treatment your doctor recommends depends on factors like the cause of your fertility issues, your age, and your preferences. Options include:
- fertility drugs to stimulate ovulation
- surgery to fix a uterine condition, such as endometriosis, fibroids, or blocked fallopian tubes
- intrauterine insemination, where sperm is placed directly into your uterus during ovulation
- in vitro fertilization, where sperm and egg are placed together in a lab until they form an embryo, which is then implanted into your uterus
- zygote intrafallopian transfer and gamete intrafallopian transfer, where the sperm and egg or a fertilized egg is placed into your fallopian tube
If you’re ready to start trying for a baby, here are a few things you can do to help make parenthood a reality:
- Get to a healthy weight. An ideal body mass index is between 19 and 24. Being overweight or underweight can affect your ability to ovulate.
- Quit smoking. Smoking can damage your egg supply and make you more likely to miscarry if you do get pregnant.
- Watch your diet. Eating a high-fat diet can contribute to weight gain and disrupt your reproductive cycle.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol. Research has linked excess amounts of caffeine (more than two or three cups of coffee daily) with miscarriage. Frequent alcohol use can prolong the time it takes you to get pregnant and is harmful to fetal development.
You can increase your chances of having a healthy baby by following these tips:
- Treat any conditions that could make pregnancy risky, including diabetes and high blood pressure.
- See your obstetrician for a preconception visit to make sure you’re healthy enough to get pregnant. Then, keep up with all of your scheduled pregnancy visits. Seeing you regularly will let your doctor monitor your and your baby’s health and address any problems that arise.
- Take good care of your body. Don’t smoke or drink alcohol, follow a healthy eating plan, exercise often, and get enough sleep.
You’ll have the best odds of getting pregnant and having a healthy baby if you start trying in your 20s or 30s, but that scenario isn’t right for every woman. When deciding to start a family, you also need to consider whether you’re:
- in a solid relationship or have the support system to have a child on your own
- ready to temporarily put your career on hold
- financially secure enough to support a child
If you have any concerns about your ability to get pregnant, see your gynecologist or visit a fertility specialist.