What Do You Actually Need To Know About Having a Baby After Age 35?

Hilary Swank gave birth to twins at age 48; Da Brat announced that she was pregnant at the same age. And Lindsay Lohan is expecting her first at age 36.

What do all these celebs have in common? They had kids at what the medical community considers an advanced maternal age; the term that was formerly used (but that doctors are now trying to move away from) is geriatric pregnancy.

So, what's a geriatric pregnancy, exactly? Both advanced maternal age and geriatric pregnancy are terms that refer to a pregnancy that occurs in someone who's over age 35 — which may seem like a laughably young cutoff, especially considering that nearly one in five pregnancies in the US were in people who were 35 or older, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reports.

Still, if you're considering getting pregnant after 35, but are worried about the risks, we asked an ob-gyn what to know about advanced maternal age pregnancies. (The good news? Most people who want to have a baby after age 35 are able to do so without too much trouble.)

— Additional reporting by Murphy Moroney

What Is a Geriatric Pregnancy?
Getty | Prostock-Studio

What Is a Geriatric Pregnancy?

Put simply, a geriatric pregnancy is when a woman becomes pregnant over the age of 35. Again, the outdated term has since been replaced by "advanced maternal age."

This type of pregnancy is actually more common than you might think. "In the United States, increases in the number, percentage, and rate of births to older women have been observed over the past four decades," says Roxanne Pero, MD, FACOG, board-certified ob-gyn and member of the practitioner collective at perinatal nutrition brand, Needed. Nearly 19 percent of all pregnancies in the United States were in women age 35 years and older, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "There's also been a more recent trend of women waiting to have their first child until they're between the ages of 40 and 44," Dr. Pero says.

What Are the Risks of a Geriatric Pregnancy?
Getty | Jose Luis Pelaez Inc

What Are the Risks of a Geriatric Pregnancy?

Although having a baby in your mid-30s is perfectly normal, getting pregnant later in life isn't without risks. According to the Cleveland Clinic, women over the age of 35 have an increased risk of:

  • Preeclampsia
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Giving birth prematurely
  • Giving birth to a child with a low birth weight
  • Expecting twins
  • Losing a pregnancy, via miscarriage or stillbirth
  • Genetic disorders, including Downs syndrome
  • Needing a Cesarean section (c-section)

Fertility also declines slightly in your 30s (although it doesn't "drop off a cliff," and most people who try to conceive in their 30s will go on to have a child).

While the list may seem overwhelming or scary at first, don't forget that every pregnancy has risks associated with it — regardless of the mother's age.

"While fertility gradually declines and there are more risks for women over age 35, there are many ways to support your body before and during pregnancy that can contribute to a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby," Dr. Pero notes. "Studies have shown that optimal nutrition, BMI, preconception and prenatal vitamin supplementation, and cessation of alcohol and cigarette smoking can help to reduce the risks of complications in pregnancies in these age groups."

What Are the Benefits of Having a Geriatric Pregnancy?
Getty | 10'000 Hours

What Are the Benefits of Having a Geriatric Pregnancy?

That's right — while the term "geriatric pregnancy" can feel loaded, recently, a number of studies have been released that suggest having kids later in life may benefit both mom and baby.

A study published in the Population and Development Review for instance, found that having kids later in life may cause children to be smarter and taller, compared to children born to younger mothers. Another important piece of the puzzle: researchers noted that the benefits to be gained from having babies later in life outweigh the risks associated with geriatric pregnancies. And that's a huge win.

Additionally, a recent study completed at Boston University School of Medicine determined that women who have kids over the age of 33 tended to live longer than moms who had their last child at 29.

As if you needed more proof that giving birth later on isn't so bad, research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that women who had a child after 35 had better brainpower and were mentally sharper in their old age.

The bottom line? Seeing information on the internet about a "geriatric" pregnancy can be scary and discouraging, but it is more likely that you would have a healthy pregnancy than not — so get educated and get empowered, Dr. Pero says.