Laura Nelson waited until she was 34 to have her first child. Most of her close friends did, too. That’s a big jump from the median age of 21 back in 1970. That’s when the government started tracking ages of new moms.
According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many women in the U.S. are waiting to have their first child. The study shows that the age increase has occurred across all states and all racial and ethnic categories making the median age 26.
One of the main reasons for the increase is a drop in the number of teen births. The CDC study cites that the number of teenagers giving birth to their first child went from 23 percent to 13 percent over a 20 year span. That decline is in all 50 states and, again, among all racial and ethnic groups.
Bill Albert, chief program officer with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, calls the decrease of the number of teenagers giving birth, “one of the nation’s great unheralded success stories of the past two decades.”
He said the reason for the drop is because of “less sex and more contraception.” The combination of sex education programs, various forms of long-acting birth control, and TV shows like Teen Mom and 16 & Pregnant have all contributed to the low rate of teenagers having babies. The television shows are designed, in part, to scare teenagers about the responsibilities and care that go into taking care of a newborn.
Abortions don’t have anything to do with the drop of teen pregnancies because there has been a decrease of teenagers getting abortions, too.
Nelson, who is planning on having another child in a year or two (her baby is 18 months), has found that she and her close friends are spending more time focused on their careers. “My mom had me when she was 24,” she said. “I wasn’t even married then, and the thought of taking care of an infant was out of the question at that time.”
Her close friend, Meghan Rudd, waited until her early 30s to try to get pregnant. “I got married at age 30,” she said. “My husband and I wanted to experience marriage, save money for a home, and concentrate on our jobs.” She just turned 35 and had her first child at age 34. (By definition, the term advanced maternal age refers to women giving birth at 35 or older.)
She didn’t want to wait until her 40s because she has a few friends and coworkers who are having a harder time getting pregnant at that age. “I have a few 40-year-old friends who are having fertility problems,” she said.
According to the CDC, about 20 percent of women in the U.S. who wait until their mid 30s and later to have their first child have fertility problems. For women who wait until their 40s, the chances of miscarrying increase dramatically.
The CDC’s study found that first birth rates for women aged 35 to 39 rose 24 percent. For women aged 40 to 44, the increase was 35 percent.
For women aged 30 or younger, particularly those less than age 20, first birth rates have dramatically declined in the past decade.
“We know the risks of waiting,” Nelson said. “Still, we need to be ready emotionally and financially, and who knows what new technology will be on the horizon. My parents had no idea about the various fertility treatments that are available today.”
November 29, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN