Not having children, having too many, or too young or not spaced far enough apart could be detrimental to a woman's health later in life, researchers said.
And although women have a harder time conceiving after 40, those who do seem to have fewer medical problems as they age.
"We have shown that partnership and parenting histories are important influences on later life health and, in many cases, are as influential as the effects of a person's socio-economic status," said Professor Emily Grundy of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine today.
In research funded by Britain's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Grundy and her team used three separate sets of data from Britain and the United States on women born in 1911 and later to assess the impact of having children on their risk of death and poor health.
"We got consistent results using these three data sets," Grundy said in an interview.
Poorer health in later life was associated with teenage births, big families of five or more children and closely spaced pregnancies of less than 18 months apart.
But older mothers experienced better health in their later years, according to the research.
"Probably people don't decide to have children at that age unless they feel fit and healthy enough to be confident of being able to look after them," she said.
Short birth intervals had negative health impacts on both mothers and fathers, which research suggests may be due to the physiological and psychosocial stresses of having children very close in age.
"That finding is particularly interesting because to our knowledge, it's the first time that later health consequences of birth intervals have been investigated in a developed country population," said Grundy.
The research also shows stable relationships contribute to long-term help in both sexes, although women many not always realise it.
When women were asked to assess their health, married women reported poorer health than single women. But Grundy said mortality rates are higher for unmarried women.
"Overall, these findings clearly have important implications for projections of the health status of the older population as well as contributing to our understanding of life course influences on health," she added.