Is there a perfect age to become a mum? Three first-time mums from different age groups talk about how they're getting to grips with motherhood – and midwife, acupuncturist and nutritional adviser Zita West and family GP Dr Carol Cooper give their views as well.
Is the best age your 20s?
Hannah Smallman, 23, lives with her partner Simon and five-month-old Cameron in Aldershot, Hampshire.
"I was working part-time in childcare when I got pregnant. I did a degree, but felt I'd like children first and a career later, so Cameron was planned. The pregnancy went without a problem and I had a quick labour. I've found the nights the hardest. I'm aware that Cameron might be keeping his dad awake, as Simon's got to get up for work. There's a lot more financial pressure on him now.
"I've got involved with all the 'mum activities' I can find. Make the effort to go out; you'll feel better for it. But I've got no regrets. When Cameron's 20, I'll be just 43 – think of what I can do with my career then. I've got the rest of my life ahead of me."
What the experts say:
"Younger mums go with the flow and are less anxious than older mums. On the downside, you're probably not as likely to look after yourself as well as an older women – you're not into health in the same way." Zita West
"At this age it's often easier to get pregnant in the first place. But one of the problems with very young mums (teens to early 20s) is that they have a higher risk of pre-eclampsia, and no one knows why. On the plus side, you have boundless energy." Dr Carol Cooper
Is the best age your 30s?
Marisa Mason, 32, lives in Kent with husband David and Emily, 12 weeks old.
"Emily was part of our 'big plan'. I didn't want to have children too young or too old, so last year we felt that we were at the right stage. I had a very good pregnancy and birth. Then I had a shock. I had no idea how relentless caring for a young baby can be.
"I started grieving for my old life. But I got the phone numbers of other new mums from my health visitor and built a network of people to meet up with. Those feelings wore off, so by the time Emily was seven weeks, we'd really bonded. Now she's a bit older, she's good fun to have around."
What the experts say
"Recent press reports suggest that the best age to have a baby is 34, because you've hopefully established your career and are financially stable. But if your partner is very career-orientated, you may find he isn't around for support as much as you'd like him to be." Zita West
"It's a good time to have a baby, but bear in mind that incidences of chromosomal abnormalities increase gradually from the mid-30s onwards. If you leave it until your late 30s you may have trouble conceiving." Dr Carol Cooper
Is the best age your 40s?
Alice Brittain, 41, lives in London with husband Bill and Nancy, 10 months.
"I thought I never wanted children, but my biological alarm clock went off and it was now or never. Although we were thrilled when I fell pregnant, the pregnancy was terrible – 22 weeks of feeling sick. I ended up being induced. After 21 hours of labour, Nancy was delivered by forceps. It was a bad delivery and I've still got problems now.
"In the first couple of weeks I didn't feel any different. But as the weeks went by, I started to really enjoy motherhood. I'm going back to work soon, which I'm dreading. We're lucky we can afford a nanny, so Nancy will be in her own home. Bill and I both feel Nancy's changed our lives for the better."
What the experts say:
"Women in their 40s eat well and enjoy a healthy lifestyle. Pregnancy can be very medicalised at this age, with lots of tests and scans. But mums who have babies in their 40s tend to be happy with who they are and what they've achieved." Zita West
"In your 40s, the risks of chromosomal abnormalities, miscarriage and developing diabetes in pregnancy are higher. You may find you have less energy when the baby's born. But you're likely to be a highly motivated mum." Dr Carol Cooper
“Recent press reports suggest that the best age to have a baby is 34, because you’ve hopefully established your career and are financially stable.” Zita West, midwife