Meghan Markle, 37, experiencing a 'geriatric pregnancy': What are the health risks?

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are expecting their first child.

The Duchess of Sussex is said to be in good health, but having celebrated her 37th birthday in August, Meghan’s pregnancy announcement means she will technically be classed as an older mum.

It may sound bizarre, but women over the age of 35 are considered to have a “geriatric pregnancy.”

Though Meghan certainly is not alone in that.

The Duchess of Sussex is technically classed as an older mum [Photo: Getty]
The Duchess of Sussex is technically classed as an older mum [Photo: Getty]

Over the last two decades, increasing numbers of women have had babies over the age of 35.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 54% of mums in England and Wales are now aged 30 and over and stats also show a year upon year increase in fertility and birth rates for those over 35s.

In fact, like Meghan will be, around one in five women is 35 or older when she gives birth.

But while being an older mother certainly isn’t uncommon, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recently highlighted that there are greater health risks associated with later pregnancy.

“Pregnancy in older age is associated with higher risk of miscarriage,” explains Mr Narendra Pisal, Consultant Gynaecologist at London Gynaecology. “This is possibly because of higher chance of chromosomal problems in embryo as the eggs get older.”

“There is also a higher chance of having a baby with Down’s syndrome,” he continues. “At 35, this is 1 in 250 and increases to 1 in 100 by 40 years of age. By 45, risk of miscarriage is nearly 50% and chance of Down’s syndrome baby is greater that 2%. A Noninvasive Prenatal Test (NIPT) is a blood test for mother to look at baby’s chromosomes and can be done from 10 weeks of gestation.”

Then there’s the pregnancy related complications which increase with age, such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, low lying placenta, placental abruption and growth problems for babies.

“There is also a higher chance of difficult labour and intervention (due to above medical factors) such as induction of labour or caesarean section,” advises Mr Pisal.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have made it clear they would like to have children [Photo: Getty]
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have made it clear they would like to have children [Photo: Getty]

But though there are clearly some risks associated to being a little late in join the parenting party, according to some experts scary headlines often blow those risks out of proportion.

“Anything that is a little unusual in birth is immediately given the high risk label,” explains Katharine Graves, antenatal education expert and founder of KG Hypnobirthing.

“For older mothers over all there is are slightly higher pregnancy risks – when we are 40 we have had 20 more years to abuse our bodies than when we are 20! But if an older mother is completely healthy, has had a healthy pregnancy and no conditions to be concerned about, she is no more high risk than a younger woman,” she adds.

The NHS also stresses that older pregnant women should not be “overly concerned”.

There may be more screening for certain risks, and older pregnant women should make sure their health is in the best condition, as all pregnant women should.

“Many women who become pregnant in their late 30s and early 40s have perfectly healthy pregnancies and babies,” the NHS site reads.

Interestingly, Meghan certainly won’t be the oldest royal to give birth.

In fact, the Queen was an even older mother than her granddaughter-in-law might be, having given birth to Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, a mere five weeks before she turned 38.

Queen Elizabeth II’s youngest daughter-in-law was classed as a mature mother, too. Sophie, Countess of Wessex, was two months short of her 39th birthday when she had her first child, Lady Louise, and just a month short of her 43rd birthday when she delivered her second, James.

And having Prince Louis when she was 36, Meghan’s sister-in-law the Duchess of Cambridge knows all about being pregnant and giving birth in your mid to late thirties.

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