I just can't care about every study telling me when to have kids

Research published in December touts the benefits of having a baby in your thirties compared to your twenties or forties. I'm not buying it.
By Christina Vardanis
baby on white background confused face Photo, iStockphoto.

Pregnant and 39? Good news! You’ve given your darling little bundle a leg up in this hyper-competitive world. Little Sophia is likely to be one of the smartest kids in school.

Pregnant and 40? Yikes, sorry. Because of your age, your child will enter this world at a disadvantage, what with you being less likely to play with little Aiden, and his predisposition to obesity.

That’s the takeaway from research out of the London School of Economics that attempts to determine the effect of a mother’s age on the growth and development of their child. The study, published in Biodemography and Social Biology in December, analyzed data from the Millennium Cohort Study, in which 18,000 British children were monitored until age 5.

It found that giving birth in your thirties, compared to your twenties and forties, was more positively associated with children’s cognitive and behavioral outcomes. Giving birth in your forties had the added disadvantage of your child being associated with an increased risk of obesity. The study also noted that mothers in the older age bracket played less with their children — but also read to them more and smoked less.

Five years ago, when I was 34 and pregnant, I would sniff out and pore over studies like this like this, feeling good about any outcomes that broke my way, and threatened by those that didn’t — even if the methodology was flawed. The overwhelming vulnerability that comes with being pregnant for the first time, coupled with lack of control, is a recipe for anxiety.

I found myself grasping at any morsel of information that promised even a faulty glimpse into my kid’s future, and inferring judgment from even the most banal findings. Had I seen the headline “Women who give birth in their 30s more likely to have smart kids,” I would have read every word of the story, breathed a sigh of relief, made a mental note to start trying for kid number two before 38, and felt badly for the older pregnant ladies who were no doubt sweating the findings.


Now, five years wiser and staring down the prospect of trying for that second child in my forties, I rarely even bother to click on headlines like this. Because if there’s anything five years of obsessive reading about parenting has taught me, it’s that for every study that says one thing, there is likely one that says the opposite. And the psychological effect of wading through all that contradictory information and trying to game potential outcomes can be plenty damaging all on its own.


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