What Having A 'Geriatric' Pregnancy Really Means

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
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I had my last baby at 35. I’m not going to lie—it felt harder than having my first baby at 27. Maybe because my body was older and my uterus was gently used, or possibly just because I was so freaking tired already from raising two other kids while carrying the third. Whatever the reason, I did notice a bit of a difference in my energy level overall. My doctor, a delightful gentleman in his early seventies, explained this matter-of-factly by informing me that I was having a “geriatric pregnancy,” and some exhaustion was par for the course.

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While the term geriatric pregnancy did not fill me with glee, it didn’t really freak me out, either. My old-school doc still uses that phrase, but most doctors will now refer to a pregnant person over 35 as having “advanced maternal age.”

Whatever you call it, I was okay with it. I knew my 35-year-old body was not on the brink of disaster, and I couldn’t wait to meet my daughter.

I was interested to know what might be different for me this time around, so I asked my doctor and looked into it on my own. Here are some of the facts I learned about “geriatric pregnancy,” also known as advanced maternal age.

Getting pregnant might take some extra time.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “For healthy couples in their 20s and early 30s, around 1 in 4 women will get pregnant in any single menstrual cycle. By age 40, around 1 in 10 women will get pregnant per menstrual cycle. A man’s fertility also declines with age, but not as predictably.” That means you might need to be patient, but barring any medical conditions, you’re still quite likely to be able to get pregnant.

You’re a little more likely to have a miscarriage.

This can be a scary thought, but don’t panic. Under 35 years old, you have about a 15 percent chance of pregnancy loss for each pregnancy. After age 35, that increases to between 20 and 35 percent chance of pregnancy loss. Cautious optimism is prudent, but your chances of having a healthy baby are still much higher than your chances of suffering a loss.

The rates are higher after 45, but about half of all pregnancies after 45 still result in a full-term baby.

You’re more likely to have multiples!

Some scientists think that older bodies are more likely to conceive multiples because humans have evolved to compensate for the fact that older bodies are more likely to produce embryos that don’t make it to term. Whatever the reason may be, a geriatric pregnancy is a bit more likely to produce twins than a younger pregnancy, so buckle up, older parents, and be ready for anything at that first ultrasound.

You have a somewhat higher risk of a few common pregnancy-related conditions.

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According to the Mayo Clinic, you’re more likely to develop gestational diabetes or high blood pressure during a geriatric pregnancy. That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to develop these conditions, and even if you do, you can have a healthy, happy pregnancy. Just follow doctor’s orders, and take it easy.

Your doctor might want to do extra tests to keep a close eye on you and your baby.

You might need an earlier glucose test or extra ultrasounds. Your doctor might recommend a blood test panel to look for genetic anomalies. Extra monitoring is a good thing. Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the more you can care for yourself and your baby properly.

You’re somewhat more likely to need a C-section.

This is not a certainty, and plenty of older pregnant people give birth without any complications. Just keep your mind open to the fact that advanced maternal age correlates to higher C-section rates, and read up on the procedure so you won’t be taken by surprise. The risks of C-section are also slightly higher for older moms, so make sure to discuss everything with your doctor and make the choices that are right for you.

Now all of that medical stuff is good to know, but nothing beats firsthand experience.

I talked to a few moms who had their babies after 35 and asked about their experiences with “geriatric pregnancy.” Here’s what they want you to know.

“I had one of those ‘advanced maternal age’ complications. When I failed my 3-hour glucose test during my last pregnancy, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. It ended up being no big deal. Even though I was older, I was able to control it with just my diet. I never got a high glucose reading one single time. My baby was born perfectly healthy, and I went back to normal after delivery. My age didn’t make it more complicated for us.” –Kate G.

“There was nothing that felt ‘geriatric’ about my pregnancies at 38 and 41. I started my family when I was ready, and my experience was healthy and perfect. I got pregnant easily, had quick, easy labors, and I am a really good mommy. Trust your body. Nature can amaze you!” –Laura S.

“Forty is the new twenty-five when it comes to motherhood. Our moms were around forty when we graduated high school, but it’s not at all uncommon for most of the moms in kindergarten orientation to be on the edge of forty now. Don’t let that geriatric word fool you. Older moms are wiser moms and you’re going to be just fine.” –Aimee L.

If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant after age 35, there’s no reason to think that you and your baby won’t be perfectly happy and healthy. Yes, there’s a higher risk of certain complications, but there’s also a very high chance that you and your baby will be fine. Talk to your medical providers, make informed choices, and enjoy carrying your baby.

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