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Beware, having a baby may be contagious

You may have observed that friends tend to do similar things. Having a baby is no different. A recent study has shown that young women whose friends have had a baby are more likely to follow suit. Whereas such studies may not necessarily be applicable to your circumstances, being aware of social trends may sometimes impact on your choices.

The study focused on friendships formed later in life, which are more likely to be based on common future family orientations. After one woman in each friendship had a baby, the likelihood that her friend would also have a baby went up for about 2 years. Possible mechanisms by which a friend may influence another friend to have a baby have been postulated by the study authors.

Social influence is one possible mechanism. We all compare ourselves to our friends, and being surrounded by friends who are parents makes us feel pressure to conform to parental status as well. The second possible mechanism is social learning. Friends are an important learning source. Becoming a parent is a radical change in an individual's life, and by observing our friends, we can learn how to fulfill this new role and therefore be more willing to become parents. Cost-sharing dynamics might be at play as well, and having children at the same time as friends may bring about many advantages.

In contrast, being the only childless couple within a group of friends who have children can lead to isolation. Thus exposure and interaction with your friends’ small children may increase the likelihood of you wanting to have a baby as well.But don’t wait for the contagion to catch on before having a baby. There are a multitude of biological and social variables that come into play before anyone can get pregnant. You need to be aware of such variables, and make your own appropriate decisions on the timing of childbearing.

You are more likely to conceive and have a healthy baby when in the optimal reproductive age. Beware of the natural biological decline in pregnancy rates after the age of 35. If you are on the lookout for your friends to pave the way and age is catching on, better not wait much longer. Make decisions and have your babies in good time. If not, the optimal reproductive window may catch up with you, proving too costly to have a baby much later on.

Consider also your socio-economic circumstances. You want to bring up babies when you have ample capability to provide for them. Don’t just jump into the bandwagon and conceive just because your friends are at it full steam. You are better off planning it when social, cultural and economic conditions are right for you.

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