The couple, who are reportedly 12 weeks along, wasted no time before starting a family together — and Meghan's age could have something to do with the reason why.
The Duchess of Sussex celebrated her 37th birthday in August—and while many women are waiting until their late 30s and 40s to have children, women who are pregnant over the age of 35 are considered a higher risk by physicians. In fact, there is even an antiquated (and slightly offensive) term many physicians use to describe it: a geriatric pregnancy.
No matter what you call it, there is undoubtedly more risk involved having children after the age of 35, according to fertility specialist Zaher Merhi, MD, FACOG, HCLD of New Hope Fertility Center in New York City. He explains that pregnancies involving older women can be complicated for both the mother and child.
Why are pregnancies after 35 risky?
For one, there is an increased chance of miscarriage, due to the higher probability of having a chromosomally abnormal embryo that could lead to complications such as Down syndrome. There is also a higher risk of maternal complications. These include gestational hypertension, described by the American Pregnancy Association as a high blood pressure during pregnancy, and can lead to preeclampsia, a condition that can lead to serious health problems for the mother including kidney and liver failure. Additionally, these pregnancies are more prone to gestational diabetes, a temporary form of diabetes where the body is not producing enough insulin to regulate sugar during pregnancy. Preterm birth and an increased likelihood of birth by c-section are other potential complications.
Are older mums-to-be treated differently?
Because the pregnancy is higher risk, the treatment plan for an older mother-to-be, such as Meghan, is a little bit more intense. For instance, women over 35 are asked to do an early glucose challenge test for gestational diabetes, say Dr. Merhi. As for gestational hypertension, throughout the pregnancy, their blood pressure is regularly monitored as well as is the protein their urine. Additionally, there is a vaginal ultrasound to measure the cervical length of the fetus (a shorter length can indicate risk of preterm birth).
"All these complications increase significantly if the mother has already any medical problems before she gets pregnant that is why women over the age of 35 with pre-existing medical problems should optimise their condition before attempting pregnancy," Dr. Merhi explains.
The bottom line: Geriatric pregnancies are riskier, but most turn out just fine
"Having mentioned those risks, most geriatric pregnancies end up with a great outcome (healthy mum and baby) as long as there is a close monitoring in the prenatal period and during the pregnancy," says Dr. Merhi.
And despite the increase of potential complications, Meghan isn't the only woman waiting until she is older to have children. According to the CDC, more and more women between the ages of 35 and 39 are becoming first-time mothers. In fact, from 2000 to 2012 the birth rate for women between those ages increased anywhere from 20 to 40 per cent depending on the state. Additionally, the rates of women having babies in their 40s have doubled.
As for Meghan's pregnancy, it seems as though the Duchess and her baby-to-be are both healthy. A source told People that she has already done her 12-week scan and is "feeling well."
This article originally appeared on Prevention US.