Childbearing definition: the act of producing or bringing forth children. The term is only used in connection with women and is often used in relation to the time in their lives when they're able to naturally carry a child to term. Men don't have a childbearing age and can biologically father a child right into their elder years if they're able to sexually perform.
What Are Childbearing Years?
Women are only naturally able to become pregnant and give birth to a child during their childbearing years. A woman of childbearing age is usually between the ages of 15- and 44-years old. These ages are a guideline and women can have babies earlier and later than the years indicated. A woman of childbearing age is typically considered fertile.
What Makes a Woman Fertile?
A woman is fertile when her ovary releases an egg. The egg travels down the fallopian tube where it waits for possible fertilization by a sperm. Girls are born with a set amount of eggs that are released or reabsorbed into their bodies over the course of their lives. When these eggs are used up, a woman reaches a stage in her life called menopause. This usually happens when a woman is past the age of 40, but it can sometimes happen to a woman as young as 20 years old.
When menopause is reached and all the eggs are used up, the hormone levels in a woman's body changes. She no longer creates a monthly lining in her uterus that needs to be shed as menstruation if there is no pregnancy. Throughout most of childbirth history it was impossible for a menopausal woman to become pregnant. But advances in technology now make it possible for a woman to become pregnant well into her advanced years. There are a variety of ethical concerns regarding this.
Causes of Infertility
A woman of childbearing age can be infertile even though she's ovulating and releasing eggs. Infertility can be caused if the fallopian tubes get blocked or if there's a problem with the uterus lining making it impossible for a fertilized egg to implant. Blockage of the fallopian tubes can be caused by simple structural problems, diseases like Chlamydia or gonorrhea, pelvic inflammatory disease, or scars from previous surgeries. Endometriosis, a condition where the uterine lining grows outside the uterus, can cause fallopian tube blockage or damage or make it impossible from a fertilized egg to implant. Abnormal tissue growths in the uterus, called uterine fibroids, can also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
There are also a variety of conditions in a man that can affect a couple's ability to conceive a child.
Childbearing in History
Historically the life span of the average human was much shorter than it is today. Inadequate nutrition, disease and environmental factors meant people aged faster and died sooner. Even just 100 to 200 years ago a girl was considered a woman at the age of 15, married and had children soon after that. It was not uncommon for her to spend the rest of her life until menopause either pregnant or breastfeeding.
The childbearing years were traditionally considered one of the most dangerous times in a young married woman's life. Death in childbirth was common. There were many reasons why death in childbirth was common and today most of these reasons can be medically overcome. Hemorrhaging led to the death of many new mothers. Even if the bleeding was stopped, the mother would be so weakened by the loss of blood that she wouldn't be able to fight off any bacteria. Sterile conditions were unheard of. Women who had narrow hips -- and not childbearing hips as wide hips later became referred to -- often ended up unable to push the baby out and died in the process. There were also problems with baby position making it impossible to vaginally birth a baby even if a woman had wide, childbearing hips.
In most cases in the developed world a woman no longer needs to worry that she'll die in childbirth. Modern sterile conditions reduce the spread of infection-causing bacteria. Blood transfusions are possible and c-sections can safely be performed if need be.