When is the best time to have children, in career terms?

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15 December
10:57
December
2016

The consensus and trend is to wait until you are well established in your career before starting a family and it's a trend that is growing. The average age of UK women giving birth in 1975 was 26.4 years, in 2013 it went up to 29.9 years. In 2014 the average age of British women having children passed 30 for the first time.

Waiting makes sense because rising up the career ladder usually requires a physical and emotional commitment to 'leaning in' (to use Sheryl Sandberg's phrase) ie: going after high profile assignments, investing time in networking and taking conscious steps to raise your profile and prove your value. None of this is impossible when you have a baby, but it is certainly harder. That's because suddenly you have a conflict - an emotional urge and a physical necessity to be available at home at times when you would otherwise be free to 'lean in' to that promotion. 

"Waiting makes sense because rising up the career ladder usually requires a physical and emotional commitment to 'leaning in', ie: going after high profile assignments, investing time in networking and taking conscious steps to raise your profile and prove your value."

Another reason to wait until you are established is being in a stronger position to win flexibility; you are likely in a much better negotiating position if you have already proven your worth and gained everybody's trust. 

Fertility decreases quite dramatically in your 30s, so starting a family should beat a time when you're physically able to get pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy. And egg freezing, while it's a solution, is not entirely reliable from a fertility perspective. In 2011 the live birth rates for women using embryos frozen when they were aged 18-34 was 21.59%. 

What's more it's expensive and physically gruelling, so may not be a commitment every woman could or would want to contemplate. There is a case for having kids early, and reaching your late 30s or early 40s with all the baby stuff out of the way, freeing you up to build a successful career. But this is not the most popular strategy. While 21% of babies born in England and Wales in 2014 were born to mothers over the age of 35, only 20% involved women under 25 - once considered the prime age for childbirth. 

"There is a case for having kids early, and reaching your late 30s or early 40s with all the baby stuff out of the way, freeing you up to build a successful career. But this is not the most popular strategy."

A reason for this is that having kids early on means missing out on the fun and freedom that most people associate with their early 20s. There is no right or wrong age to have a baby – the best time is when you are prepared. As well as having sufficient income and a home, this means priming your career for the impact of becoming a parent

Find out what to expect in terms of the challenges you may face and lay the foundations for maintaining your credibility at work and developing the skills you will need to meet challenges like loss of confidence and overwhelm as you juggle motherhood and career. The women I've encountered who've successfully kept their career on track after having kids attribute their success more to things like mindset, credibility, flexibility and support, both at home and from their network, than to age and timing. 

Caroline Flanagan is author of Baby Proof Your Career: The Secret To Balancing Work And Family So You Can Enjoy It All.

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