In May, Entertainment Tonight reported that Janet Jackson, who turned 50 this year, was pregnant with her first child.
The pop star posted a video to Twitter in April announcing that she and her husband were planning a family, but didn’t elaborate on whether or not she was pregnant.
My husband and I are planning our family, so I’m going to have to delay the tour. Please, if you can try and understand that it’s important that I do this now. I have to rest up, doctor’s orders. But I have not forgotten about you. I will continue the tour as soon as I possibly can.
In June, Jackson’s brother, Tito, confirmed her pregnancy in an interview with the Andy Cohen Live, adding that Jackson didn’t know if she was going to have a boy or a girl, but that she was hoping for a healthy baby.
Jackson joins a growing group: Pregnancies among older mothers are on the rise in the United States. Between 2000 and 2014, the proportion of first births to mothers between the ages 30 and 34 rose the most of any group, followed by births to mothers over 35.
Still, births to women in their 50s are relatively rare. In 2012 there were 600 births to women aged 50 and older, up from 585 births in 2011.
That’s not to say women in their late 40s and 50s can’t conceive, but it’s very difficult to stay pregnant at that age.
“Basically, your risk of miscarriage goes up considerably as you get older,” Amy Bryant, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina, told The Huffington Post.
What’s more, having a baby in your 50s usually requires relying on a donor egg, or, at the very least, fertility treatments.
“There’s a very small percentage of women who get pregnant naturally at that late time,” she said. “It is possible, it’s just not likely to happen.”
Here’s what you need to know about pregnancy in your 40s, 50s and beyond:
Pregnancies in middle age are risky
The quality of a woman’s eggs decreases with age, so the children of those who do get pregnant at this stage of life are at a higher risk for chromosomal abnormalities, which can cause birth defects.
Women who rely on donor eggs and use hormones to support the pregnancy may fare better, since the age-related risk is the same as the age of the egg donor, who is typically between the ages of 21 and 35, according to the New York State Health Department.
That said, using donor eggs doesn’t protect older mothers from age-related pregnancy complications, such as high blood pressure during pregnancy, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, the risk of which increase with age.
Other big risks are stillbirth and miscarriage. Thirty-five-year-old women have a 20 percent risk of miscarriage, according to the Mayo Clinic, and that risk doubles to 40 percent by age 40. And for 45-year-olds, the miscarriage rate is a full 80 percent.
Still, forty-somethings shouldn’t ditch their birth control
Just because a 45-year-old woman isn’t likely to conceive doesn’t mean she should forgo birth control, Bryant cautioned.
“People who are interested in avoiding pregnancy should use effective contraception through menopause,” she said. While unplanned pregnancies are certainly a risk, another big risk is miscarriage. While it’s rare to have complications from a complete miscarriage, if any tissue or placenta remains in the uterus it can cause serious infection requiring immediate medical attention, according to the National Institutes of Health.
And in addition to the heartache and complications of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies, in which the fertilized egg implants somewhere outside of the uterus, are more common among older women.
“Avoiding getting yourself into that situation in the first place is worthwhile,” Bryant said.
Celebrity pregnancies foster an unrealistic view of fertility
Not all women have a clearsighted outlook on their fertility. Indeed, Bryant has seen women who have unrealistic expectations about their ability to get pregnant in their early- or mid-40s.
“Celebrities certainly do impact people’s perceptions of things,” Bryant said. “I think people go, ‘Oh, well if Janet Jackson could do this, why can’t I?’”
But women can have wildly different health and fitness levels, which can drastically affect their fertility. For example, a 50-year-old woman with diabetes and obesity is highly unlikely to have a normal pregnancy, even if she’s ovulating every month.
Beyond health and fertility, many women don’t have the celebrity-caliber resources required to pay for a late-in-life pregnancy, which might require pricey donor eggs or multiple fertility treatments.
Still, improved reproductive technology and a cultural shift toward women having babies at a later age has lessened the stigma surrounding older moms.
“We now don’t consider 40 years old to be that old,” Bryant said. “Certainly women over 35 have babies all time.”
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article appeared in May 2016.