Photo: Flickr / CarbonNYC
Should you have a baby? Today is (British) Mother’s Day and nine months from now is December, a very good time of year to give birth.December babies are among the oldest in their school year, giving them an advantage over younger peers. Studies have claimed that babies born in October, November and December are likely to live longer than those born in the summer.
It seems prospective parents have been paying attention to such reports. Although traditionally more babies are born during the summer, in 2010 (the last full year for which figures are available), there were more births in October to December than any other quarter, according to the Office for National Statistics.
But is it such a good idea to ditch birth control right now?
Research by the Asda Baby and Toddler Club, on behalf of The Observer, suggests there are a few downsides to starting a family: of the 2,113 parents questioned, 49% said they have put on weight, 40% exercise less, 22% get ill more often, 49% spend less time with their partner and, perhaps not surprisingly, 58% have less sex.
It’s not good news on the work front either. Nearly a quarter of those questioned said they had less time and energy to focus on their careers; 25% said they had stopped working and 5% said they no longer expected to be promoted. Only 4% said they worked more effectively and 6% that they were more focused and ambitious since having children.
Despite all of that, most people who have children would argue that the emotional benefits far outweigh any practical disadvantages. So we have asked experts in different aspects of life to give their opinion of what could happen if you decide to take that biggest step of all.
Relationships a go-go
Mel Merritt, Relate spokesperson and mother to an 18-month-old, says: “Before I went off on maternity leave, two pieces of information stuck out as I left the office. Firstly, it’s that tough that Relate has a ‘survival guide’ (Relate’s Baby Shock – Your relationship survival guide). Second was a gem from a contributor to a Relate and Mumsnet survey, who revealed that when she climaxed after having a child, milk squirted out of her boobs.
“Eighteen months on, I think survival is a good description. There were many times that I seriously couldn’t remember what we use to talk about. On the other hand, nothing has brought us closer than the excitement of watching our son grow.
“On the second piece of advice, luckily it’s not happened to me, but a couple of friends had the same thing happen. Best advice I got for sex after a baby: take it easy and then take it whenever you can.”
Not necessarily, says Liz Gardiner, mother and head of policy for Working Families. “Many parents want a different working pattern when they return, and can request flexible working. Good employers recognise there are business benefits from allowing this – they retain loyal and high performing workers.
“But many parents find their requests are refused,” she adds. “Mothers, in particular, will often trade job status and pay for better working hours, moving into part-time, lower-paid work that doesn’t match their skill levels. High quality part-time work is difficult to find.
“However, research shows women are most able to avoid downgrading when they can reduce their hours with their current employer, and fathers report they are less troubled by stress when they can work flexibly.”
Health and children
Dr Luisa Dillner, author of a medical column for the Guardian and mother of five, says: “Most parents would swear that having children has made them happy. But the research says the opposite. Overwhelmingly, studies show that parents are less emotionally satisfied with their lives, more stressed and less happy in their relationships than childless people. Surveys put the happiness of parents at 8% lower levels than non-parents.
“The strain of having children starts immediately. The National Sleep Research programme in Australia says new parents lose 400 to 750 hours of sleep in the first year alone. Your toddler will introduce you to new cold and gastric viruses at the rate of at least eight a year. Carrying not only your young child but all its kit will guarantee lower back pain. Fast forward to the teenage years and most parents feel anxious and generally unwell until their children leave home.
“Yet maybe this is just the trivial stuff. A study of Norwegians in social science and medicine found parents had less chance of developing cancer and heart disease because they were motivated to look after their health. Mothers were less likely to get breast cancer and fathers less likely to get respiratory diseases. The health and wellbeing effects were strongest for two children. After four children it all went downhill.”
Finances down the drain
With statutory maternity and paternity pay at well below the national minimum wage, family finances are likely to take a hit, says Gardiner. Women with degrees face a 4% loss in lifetime earnings as a result of motherhood, while mothers with no qualifications face a 58% loss, according to the report How fair is Britain?, published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Fathers’ salaries are also affected: Reinventing the Workplace, by think tank Demos, in 2011 found that only half of fathers questioned took two weeks off when their children were born because statutory paternity pay covers less than 25% of their salary, and only one in 10 would take more than two weeks.
Even when you are back at work, childcare costs will wipe out a chunk of your earnings – £5,103 a year on average for a 25-hour-a-week nursery place for a child under two, according to the Daycare Trust, or £14,716 to £19,760 for a live-in nanny, according to babycentre.co.uk.
Then there are all the other expenses. Of the parents questioned by Asda, 8% expected to incur private-school fees (typical cost £10,000 a year for junior school, and £15,000 a year for senior); 61% thought they would be contributing to university fees (up to £9,000 a year); 11% to gap-year expenses (£3,000 to £4,000, says Prospects); and 51% with a car (£6,689 for owning and running a new one, £4,724 for used, says the RAC).
When they leave home they still keep costing you money. Half the Asda parents expected to help with the cost of a wedding (£12,541, excluding average honeymoon cost of £3,000.); 23% with a first house deposit (£8,077, based on needing a 5% deposit on the average price of a property in England); and 34% with the costs incurred by grandchildren. Only 10% thought they would avoid all of these costs.
Old age and ill health
There are six million carers in the UK – one in 10 people – according to the Princess Royal Trust for Carers. Many are adults caring for elderly parents, while 175,000 are young carers looking after ill or disabled parents.
They are estimated to save the government between £67bn and £87bn a year, but the effect on their lives can be devastating: 68% of young carers are bullied at school, says the Princes Royal Trust.
Even if you are lucky enough not to need care as you get older, the value of having children is inestimable, says Ros Altmann, director general of Saga and mother of two. “There’s just nothing like having children around, especially as you grow older. Being able to share the joys of your children’s lives adds another dimension to older people’s worlds.”
You might get a state pension
Tom McPhail, pensions expert with independent financial adviser Hargreaves Lansdown and father of four, says: “Based on current trends, between 2008 and 2051 the proportion of the population over age 65 will increase from 16% to 24%. This means fewer people contributing to the nation’s accumulating wealth and more people drawing on it. Clearly, if we have fewer babies this will exacerbate the problem. “The only other way to get more workers in is through immigration; the only way to reduce third age dependency is to extend working ages – which in turn can put more pressure on youth employment.It is because of these demographic pressures that we are seeing the state pension age increase so rapidly.”
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