If you’re pregnant and over the age of 35, you may have heard the term “geriatric pregnancy.” Odds are, you probably don’t qualify for any seniors’ discounts just yet, so you may be wondering why on earth your pregnancy has been called geriatric.

In the medical world, a geriatric pregnancy is an old term that was used to describe a pregnancy in a person over the age of 35. Nowadays, doctors use the term advanced maternal age (AMA) instead.

Here’s what to expect if you are pregnant in this age group.

Advanced maternal age (AMA) is the medical term used to describe pregnancy in people age 35 and older.

Today, more babies than ever are born to people in this age category.

According to a 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of people who gave birth to their first babies between the ages of 35 and 39 has rising over time. As of 2014, first births in this age group were 6 times more common than they were in the 1970s.

The rates of pregnant people having their first babies even in their 40s is as much as 4 times higher than it used to be, according to the same 2014 CDC report.

Birth rates do change year by year, sometimes dipping rather than rising. 2020 CDC data shows fewer births across all age categories than the year before. For people over 40, this was the first time since 1981 that the number of births went down.

Overall, though, starting a family when you’re over age 35 or 40 is more commonplace now than it was for previous generations.

If pregnancy after 35 isn’t really that unusual, why do we even need the term “advanced maternal age”? The answer is that pregnancy in this age group comes with some potential risks. We’ll look at these next.

All pregnancies come with some amount of risk, regardless of your age. But the possibility of complications is higher when you’re older.

Because you’re born with the same eggs that you’ll have for your entire life, there is a higher chance of abnormalities during pregnancies that happen later in life.

Other health changes associated with aging can also affect your pregnancy. For example, the risk of fibroids and endometriosis increases with age.

Some of the risks of advanced maternal age during pregnancy include:

  • premature birth
  • low birth weight in the baby
  • miscarriage
  • stillbirth
  • chromosomal abnormalities
  • birth defects
  • labor complications, such as early labor
  • cesarean delivery
  • preeclampsia, a serious form of high blood pressure
  • gestational diabetes
  • multiple pregnancies, such as twins or triplets

As you get older you also have a higher risk of chronic (long-term) high blood pressure.

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, many more people have chronic high blood pressure during pregnancy than ever before. Between 2000 and 2009, the number of pregnancies in people with high blood pressure went up by 69 percent. For African American people, the increase was even higher, going up by 87 percent.

Chronic high blood pressure can cause pregnancy complications such as:

  • early cesarean delivery
  • serious bleeding after delivery (postpartum hemorrhage)
  • gestational diabetes
  • stroke
  • fluid buildup in your lungs (pulmonary edema)
  • kidney failure

Taking care of your health before and during pregnancy, and after delivery, is the best way to reduce these risks. While this is true regardless of your age, it’s especially important for people over 35.

Having a baby later in life isn’t all about bad news and health risks. There is also good news about becoming a parent after the age of 35.

For example, the CDC says that in general, those who wait to have children have many benefits at their disposal. Older parents have more resources to care for their children, such as higher incomes and more education.

Your age alone does not determine the health of your pregnancy. But you should talk with your doctor if you are pregnant over the age of 35.

Your doctor will likely recommend some extra monitoring along the way, to make sure you have a healthy pregnancy.

If you’re older, you might worry that your pregnancy, labor, and birth will be complicated just because of your age. But pregnancies over the age of 35 can be perfectly healthy.

When possible, it’s best to see your doctor before you try to become pregnant. They can help you get started with steps toward a healthy pregnancy. This can include:

  • eating a balanced diet
  • taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid before conception, if possible
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • avoiding substances such as smoking, alcohol, or drugs

And once you’re pregnant, you should see your doctor for prenatal care as soon as you can. Talk with your doctor about how you can have the best pregnancy possible and what you can do to lower your risk of complications.

You can also talk about optional screening tests you might choose to take, to check on the health of the fetus (baby). If you decide to use screening tests, some of these tests will need to be done early in the pregnancy.