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Why 37-year-old Meghan Markle's pregnancy is considered 'geriatric'

INSIDER logoINSIDER 10/15/2018 Caroline Praderio
a person smiling for the camera © WPA Pool/Getty Images

  • Meghan Markle is pregnant at age 37.
  • Pregnancy after age 35 is sometimes described as "geriatric."
  • Women over 35 are less likely to get pregnant and more likely to have certain complications, including miscarriage and having babies with birth defects.
  • But women over 35 can also have healthy pregnancies with no issues.

There's a new royal baby on the way: On Monday, Kensington Palace announced that Meghan Markle is pregnant with her first child and due to give birth in spring 2019.

The official announcement said Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, "have appreciated all of the support they have received from people around the world since their wedding in May and are delighted to be able to share this happy news with the public."

Markle is 37, which puts her in good company with her American peers. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the average age of U.S. mothers has increased in recent years. In fact, from 2000 to 2014, the proportion of first births to mothers 35 and older climbed by 23%.

But Markle's age also puts her past the 35-year-old threshold that's so often talked about in relation to female fertility; most women have probably heard over and over that their fertility declines after 35. Pregnancies in women over this age are sometimes even categorized as "geriatric," though that term isn't really used by doctors anymore, Healthline reported.

For some women, pregnancy after 35 may come with additional difficulties and risks - but that doesn't mean every pregnant woman age 35 or older will experience them. Here's what women should know.

It can take longer to get pregnant after age 35

Women are born with a fixed amount of eggs in their ovaries and, as they get older, they're left with fewer eggs that are more likely to have genetic abnormalities. This is why a woman's fertility decreases with age. This decline starts around age 30 and speeds up in the mid-30s, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

The ACOG adds that women are also at a higher risk for health conditions that negatively impact fertility, like growths known as uterine fibroids and endometriosis, a condition when the uterine lining grows outside the uterus.

Pregnant women over 35 may have more complications

© Rajesh Kumar Singh, File/AP

The risk for certain complications does increase after age 35. Pregnant women over 35 are at a higher risk for pre-eclampsia (dangerously high blood pressure), miscarriage, stillbirth, having multiples, and having a baby with missing, damaged or extra chromosomes, according to the ACOG.

Down syndrome is the most common chromosome problem that occurs in women who get pregnant past age 35, the ACOG adds. A 35-year-old woman has a one in 353 chance of giving birth to a baby with Down syndrome. A 40-year-old woman has a one in 85 chance of giving birth to a baby with the condition.

But it's not as if some internal switch flips the moment a woman turns 35, making pregnancy instantly and categorically dangerous.

"We've learned that there's nothing magic about age 35," Dr. Sarah J. Kilpatrick, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Cedars-Sinai, told SELF in 2016. "I would never tell someone that just because she's 35 she has to see a high-risk doctor [for pregnancy] - only if there's something in her history, or something that happened during her pregnancy that warrants it."

It is true that having babies after 35 does increase the risk of some serious, potentially tragic complications, but not all 35-year-old women are the same. Some may be in excellent health and others may have conditions that complicate the process of being pregnant or giving birth.

The ACOG says many women beyond this 35-year-old cutoff can have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. The organization stresses that getting early and regular prenatal care will increase the odds of a healthy birth.

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