Why some doctors would still use the term ‘geriatric’ to describe Meghan Markle’s pregnancy

Make room for another royal!

Kensington Palace announced early in October that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are expecting their first child in the spring of next year. Their baby would be seventh in line to the throne, behind Prince Charles, Prince William and his three children and dad Prince Harry.

This is also Markle’s first time being pregnant. Because the Duchess of Sussex is 37 years old, experts have begun to refer to her condition as a “geriatric pregnancy.” In case you’ve heard people throwing around this term in regards to her pregnancy, here’s what you should know to be in the loop.

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What Does ‘Geriatric Pregnancy’ Mean, Exactly?

“Geriatric pregnancy” is a term some medical professionals use to describe pregnancies in women who are over 35 years old.

Doctors created the label decades ago to reflect the effect of aging on fertility, and the attendant risks of pregnancy complications. Today, more physicians choose to use “advanced maternal age” instead to refer to women who become pregnant after the age of 35.


Are Geriatric Pregnancies Common?

Markle is not an anomaly. In fact, statistics show that more and more women in their late 30s and early 40s are becoming pregnant for the first time.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, first birth rates among women ages 35 to 39 have increased six-fold over three decades; for women ages 40 to 44, that number rose more than four-fold. And this uptick in older age pregnancies has been seen among all racial groups, the CDC reports.

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What Are The Risks Of A Geriatric Pregnancy?

Women are born with a set number of eggs in their ovaries and, as they age, they begin to lose those eggs at a more rapid pace. As a result, they become less fertile as they grow older, and the remaining eggs are more likely to have abnormal chromosomes, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Because of this, they’re more likely to develop disorders that can affect their fertility, such as endometriosis and uterine fibroids.

The potential for pregnancy-related complications also increases with age. Pregnant women who are over 35 years old face a higher chance of premature birth, miscarriage, gestational diabetes, low fetal birth weight, stillbirth and high blood pressure, known as preeclampsia, according to ACOG. However, an individual’s health, genetics and family history also play a role in the likelihood of those risks.

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Should Doctors Still Use The Term ‘Geriatric Pregnancy,’ Though?

Opinions are split. Many people, including members of the medical community, suggest that the label is outdated and doesn’t align with the definition of “geriatric,” which the American Academy of Family Physicians uses to describe a person over age 65. Others have argued that the term is stigmatizing and puts pressure on women to give birth before a certain age.

But some doctors argue that “geriatric pregnancy” is accurate because it refers to a “medical reality” among older women.

“It is a bit of an arbitrary cutoff, but at the same time we do understand that aging does affect pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes,” Dr. Shilpi Mehta-Lee, a maternal-fetal medical specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center, told Good Morning America. “And there are more risks even after you get over the age of 40.”

Whether you choose to use “geriatric pregnancy” or not, one thing is for certain: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are in for a wild ride. Congratulations to the royal couple!