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What is a Gestational Carrier?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A gestational carrier is a woman who agrees to carry a baby for someone else. Going through this process is controversial in many parts of the world and can be legally complex, and people generally view it as an option of last resort by couples who are struggling to have children. It usually requires good health and may or may not involve compensation, depending on current regional laws.


Gestational carriers should not be confused with surrogates. The former does not have any biological relationship to the child. The latter donates an egg and, therefore, has genetic links to the baby she carries.

Reasons for Use

Couples usually select a gestational carrier when they are having fertility problems. Depending on the exact issues, she may carry a baby made from an egg and sperm donated by the couple, or outside donations of an egg and sperm may be used. A woman and her partner might turn to a one of these options if she has had multiple miscarriages, as the failed pregnancies suggest that she might not be able to carry a baby to term. She also might choose this option when carrying a baby would be too dangerous to her health.

In some cases, homosexual couples rely on this system to have children. This is most common when two men are together, as they biologically do not have the reproductive organs needed to carry a baby. One partner may donate sperm in this case, creating a biological link to the child, but if desired, sperm can come from a third party instead. True gestational carrying is less common with two women, as one partner usually uses her own egg, fertilized by a sperm donor, to get pregnant. Women might get help, however, when neither partner wants to carry the baby, or when both partners have health problems that make pregnancy difficult or unsafe.

A single person might use this method to have a child, as well. This is not as common, but in some areas such as the United States, it is becoming more accepted as the definition of "family" shifts to include homosexual parents, blended families and divorcees. Those who go this route often feel that they are at just the right age to be a parent and shouldn't be held back because of a lack of a relationship or fertility complications. They typically are fairly financially stable, as they have to cover the cost of raising the baby and, in some cases, compensating the gestational carrier.


As a general rule, people choose a woman to give birth for them based on her overall health. Many parents like to find a woman who already has had at least one child, because this indicates that she is capable of carrying a baby safely to term. In many countries, fertility consultants offer listings of women who have volunteered to be gestational carriers, but some women may ask friends or family members to carry children for them because trust already is high.

Generally, women who carry babies for others have to be of legal age, as medical professionals know that pregnancies can be riskier to health as age decreases. Having a baby can pose problems for older women, as well, so most people look for a woman who is 20 — 35 years old, the range during which women are typically most fertile. Those who fall into this group often are mature enough to understand the ethical, moral, financial and legal aspects of what they're doing.

Technical Process

Once a family has selected the woman who will carry and deliver the baby, the scientific steps for getting her pregnant begin. Usually, she goes through at least one round of fertility treatments. After medical professionals harvest eggs from the mother or a third party, they introduce sperm from the father or another donor, creating a zygote they can implant. Once implantation is finished, everyone involved waits — usually very anxiously — to see if it is successful. If something goes wrong, it is generally possible to try again, but for some would-be parents, it is too emotionally and financially exhausting to do so.

Health Requirements

During the pregnancy, medical professionals and parents usually ask the gestational carrier to follow certain health guidelines, such as not smoking, drinking or using drugs. She is also often required to attend regular prenatal checkups and to observe basic precautions to protect the health of the developing fetus. Some health conditions such as high blood pressure or heart disease might rule a woman out, so fertility clinics usually conduct a basic health screening and get a complete medical history before moving forward.

Contact With Parents During Pregnancy

Depending on the terms of her contract, a gestational carrier might visit with the parents who have contracted her services to keep them updated on the pregnancy. Some women and the parents they're helping prefer to maintain minimal contact, however. In either case, she almost always notifies the parents when she is in labor. They usually come to where the baby is being born, with some actively participating in the delivery.

Parental Role and Rights

After the delivery of the baby, the relationship a family has with a gestational carrier varies. Sometimes, for example, depending on the legal definition of "parent" and "mother" in her area, she may give up all rights to the child. In other instances, the parents might invite her to play a role in the child's life, which might range from occasional visits to being a full partner in childrearing. There have been cases where the failure to outline rights and expectations in a formal contract has led to legal battles over child custody, so potential parents and gestational carriers should think about and discuss these issues carefully before making an agreement.

Legal Status and Compensation

Laws about gestational carrying are different from place to place, with some territories and states still considering it illegal. In many areas, even when it is allowed, it is against the law to pay a woman simply to carry the baby. Regions that have this guideline usually enforce it because they do not want women who are financially disadvantaged to put their health at risk by getting pregnant unnecessarily. The process of conceiving and giving birth can be expensive, however, so some jurisdictions let parents provide fees that cover the prenatal, delivery and other related costs.


Using a woman to have a non-biologically related child is very controversial. Some individuals argue that these types of pregnancies go against religious values related to natural conception, or that the expense related to the process creates a hierarchy where only more economically privileged people are able to participate. Others assert that this system is extremely beneficial, because it allows those who truly want children to have them. These individuals say that biology has no bearing on love.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon936780 — On Mar 03, 2014

Gestational carrier is a new term for a surrogate mother. Actually, it's meant to differentiate traditional and gestational surrogacy programs. In my opinion, using the services of a gestational carrier is a safer way to have a baby without subsequent complications with the child custody thing.

By anon324378 — On Mar 10, 2013

I pray for all involved in posting their opinions about gestational carrying, for those who are involved in supporting woman who do this for others, and those who are involved first hand as woman who carry the baby to term. Is this God's divine plan? Or has technology gotten out of hand? Yes, there are ramifications for all involved. Emotional attachment. Rent and watch October Baby to see for yourselves how a baby is emotionally attached to its mother.

By anon306105 — On Nov 28, 2012

My daughter has three children of her own, but has recently given birth to twin girls for a couple who has struggled for years unsuccessfully to have children. Luckily for all, it has been an easy process. I'm so proud of my daughter for being such a selfless person. I am most happy for the parents who have tried everything for years without success that now have two beautiful babies.

By anon297422 — On Oct 15, 2012

@Bananas: A surrogate may also be the biological mother because her own egg is used in creating the embryo.

A gestational carrier is not genetically related to the baby. She carries the embryo created by another man and woman.

By bananas — On Mar 11, 2011

I never heard of this term. I only heard this in terms of surrogacy. I wonder when the name changed?

By donna61 — On Mar 01, 2011

Other than having a family member as the surrogate, I don't know how you would be sure the surrogate mother is emotionally capable of doing this. I have had three children myself, and I can't imagine carrying a child for nine months and then turning him or her over to someone else.

A legal contract is one thing, but emotions can take over and then problems can arise for both the surrogate and the parents.

Would it be fair to ask a potential surrogate mother to under go counseling before and during the pregnancy to make sure that she is in a healthy place emotionally?

I think this would help to alleviate any potential problems that could arise from the surrogate mother becoming attached to the baby. What does anyone else think?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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