What Is a Surrogate Mother? – Everything You Should Know

By Babygest Staff
Last Update: 07/05/2019

A surrogate mother, surrogate or gestational carrier is a woman who is is willing to carry someone else's child through a procedure called gestational surrogacy, surrogate motherhood, or just surrogacy. Although you may hear terms such as womb for rent, they are all considered offensive and their use should be avoided.

Provided below is an index with the 9 points we are going to expand on in this article.

What is a surrogate?

Commonly, surrogates are young, healthy women with their own family, that is to say, women who have had at least one natural pregnancy in the past, with the delivery of a healthy child. Surrogates are usually between the ages of 20 to 35 years.

In accordance with the definition provided by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a surrogate mother is:

a woman who becomes pregnant usually by artificial insemination or surgical implantation of a fertilized egg for the purpose of carrying the fetus to term for another woman.

Women who wish to become surrogates are employed, although some of them are housewives who want to help other families selflessly. It is important that they are middle-class in order to prevent them from becoming surrogates for just monetary reasons.

In general, surrogates build a close relationship with the intended parents—they are in continuous communication for more than 9 months. Some IPs become friend with her and end up considering her as another family member. The choice is up to you.

Types of surrogates

There exist two types of surrogates depending on the fertility treatment used and their genetic relation to the child born as a result:

Traditional surrogate
In addition to being the birth mother, she is the genetic mother of the child as well, given that she gets artificially inseminated with the intended father's sperm. In other words, the child is conceived using her own eggs.
Gestational surrogate
She is referred to as gestational carrier or GC because she is just the birth mother of the child, without any kind of genetic link to the baby. An embryo is created via IVF and transferred into her uterus. The embryo will be created using gametes from the intended parents or donors.

In the United States, gestational surrogacy is less complex from the legal viewpoint, given the absence of a genetic link between the surrogate and the child. And the same happens in other countries where surrogacy is permitted by law. As a result, gestational surrogacy is the preferred option over traditional surrogacy nowadays.

Learn more: What Are the Different Types of Surrogacy? – Names & Definition.

Who can use a surrogate?

The help of a surrogate mother can be considered in various cases, irrespective of whether you're a straight couple, a gay couple, or a single person. The most common reasons are:

  • Uterine complications
  • Absence of uterus (e.g. women who had a hysterectomy)
  • Conditions that make pregnancy impossible
  • You're a gay male couples or a single men

Surrogacy can be an option also for people who might not be able to adopt a child for reasons related to their age or marital status.

If you have decided to become a surrogate, now it is time for you to develop a surrogacy plan, which starts by contacting a surrogacy professional. They will match you with prospective intended parents and the legal process will begin.


Currently, there are no regulations in the USA establishing specific requirements for potential surrogates. However, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) as well as other experts agree on a series of minimum requirements to become a surrogate, including:

  • Being at least 21 years old
  • Having already given birth to at least one healthy baby
  • Having passed a psychological evaluation by a mental health professional
  • Agreeing with signing a contract about her role, responsibilities and rights in the pregnancy

Women who are already on motherhood have a better chance of understanding firsthand the medical risks of pregnancy and labor, as well as the emotional issues associated with both phases. This makes it easier for them to give up the baby after birth.

How is the matching process done?

If you have decided to become a surrogate mother, now it is time for you to determine the type of surrogacy you are interested in and choose a surrogacy professional.

With the initial application, you will likely be asked some general questions and the reasons why you want to become a surrogate.

There exist two ways intended parents can find a surrogate mother:

Family or friends
Many commissioning parents choose a family member or close friend to be their surrogate. The complex legal issues involved and the high costs associated can be simpler to manage if the surrogate is a trusted person. The ASRM completely discourages traditional surrogacy arrangements using a family member or gestational surrogacy using the surrogate as the egg donor, though.
Surrogacy agency
Among the different tasks of surrogacy agencies, arranging a gestational surrogate for intended parents is one of them. Agencies act like intermediaries between the IPs and the surrogate throughout the process.

Once matched, the intended parents and the surrogate sign a contract that clearly spells out the rights and obligations of each party. To protect the rights of both, and that of the child, you should hire an attorney specializing in reproductive law in your state.

Are you an intended parent? If you are reading this, it's because you have considered surrogacy to start a family, and are already looking for a gestational surrogate.

You may therefore be interested to know and understand the costs involved.

Why becoming a surrogate?

In the United States, even though it is possible for women to become surrogates for financial reasons, the actual compensation they receive is far below the country's standard of living. In other words, receiving a payment for carrying someone else's child is not their only motivation—surrogates are motivated largely by altruism.

In other countries like Canada, commercial surrogacy arrangements are prohibited. Gestational surrogates don't receive any financial compensation at all, except for a reimbursement of expenses. So, in short, it is clear that those who decide to carry a child for another person have a unique motive for doing so: solidarity.

On the other side of the coin, surrogates in Russia, Ukraine, Thailand or India often decide to bear children for others primarily out of financial concerns.

Especially in low-income countries like Thailand and India, the situation of surrogates is below the poverty threshold. For this reason, they see in surrogacy the possibility of earning some money and improve their quality of life. This lead to the exploitation of women, who were just seen as "wombs for rent". This is the reason why the governments of both countries decided to amend the surrogacy law a few years ago, with the purpose of preventing surrogacy arrangements from becoming a business.

FAQs from users

Can the idea of gestation of an embryo that is not one's own cause psychological problems or sequels? And giving the baby after birth?

By Amalia Bayonas MD (psychologist).

Everything depends on the personality, values, emotional state and attitude towards the surrogate motherhood of the pregnant woman. It is not the same to give up your own child than to do it when you know from the beginning that you are pregnant with another couple's child. And it is not the same to do it for exclusively economic reasons or forced by circumstances than to do it freely, consciously and with the idea of helping third parts.

What psychological tests should done on the surrogate pregnant woman to ensure that she is prepared for it?

By Amalia Bayonas MD (psychologist).

First of all, any psychological pathology should be excluded. There are quite reliable tools to determine the state of emotional health. In addition, an in-depth interview should be carried out to determine the motivation, maturity and freedom of judgement of the pregnant potential.

What is the meaning of 'surrogate'?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of the word 'surrogate' is:

1: one appointed to act in place of another / 2: one that serves as a substitute

So, as one can see, both definitions imply that a surrogate is a woman who acts as a gestational carrier, that is, substitutes the intended mother to bear the pregnancy for her.

How much is it to be a surrogate mother?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

Surrogate mothers do not pay out-of-pocket during the process. They receive an economic compensation (as long as it is a commercial surrogacy arrangement) that usually ranges between $35,000 to $40,000 plus expenses.

Read: Surrogate Mother Pay – How Much Does a Surrogate Get Paid?

How much does a surrogate cost?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

In the United States, the cost of surrogacy arrangements is $90,000-$130,000 on average. The cost may be slightly higher in the state of California, where surrogates are on high demand.

See also: Surrogacy Cost Breakdown – Agency & Gestational Carrier Fees.

What are the pros and cons of being a surrogate?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

The main advantage reported by women who have already been surrogate mothers is helping others start their own family. Additionally, getting a financial compensation is considered a major pro as well.

On the other hand, going through pregnancy, with the discomforts and stages associated, is perhaps a con for some women. However, most surrogates are women who truly enjoy being pregnant. Finally, the social impact of being a surrogate can be somehow a disadvantage.

How does a surrogate mother get pregnant?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

Gestational carriers get pregnancy by means of IVF embryo transfer. This means that they have to undergo a process of endometrial preparation to increase the chances of embryo implantation. Traditional surrogates are just artificially inseminated by IUI. However, the latter type of surrogate has fallen into disuse nowadays.

Is a surrogate mother the biological mother?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

If she is just a gestational carrier, the answer is no, she isn't. In gestational surrogacy arrangements, the egg cell is provided by the intended mother as long as possible, or by an egg donor if needed. The goal is to avoid that there's a genetic link between the GC and the baby-to-be in order to prevent the creation of an emotional bond between them.

Conversely, in traditional surrogacy, the surrogate is the biological and birth mother at the same time. This is precisely the reason why this kind of surrogacy is not practically not used today in the USA.

Can you be a surrogate mother after menopause?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

Yes, your ovaries or eggs are not required for surrogacy, but only a healthy uterus. A mother can choose to carry a child for a daughter or another family member in the USA as long as her uterus is in the right conditions for bearing a pregnancy. It should be taken into account that the ability to carry a baby deteriorates with age as well as the egg quality.

Can a 60-year-old be a surrogate?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

It is possible, but complicated, for the reasons explained in the previous question. Although it is uncommon for post-menopausal women to be able to go through endometrial preparation, some do qualify and are perfectly able to carry and deliver a healthy baby.

Can siblings be surrogates?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

Yes, it is perfectly possible as long as they meet all the medical and psychological requirements. Even if the intended parents have a surrogate and there's no need for being matched through an agency, she has to meet minimum criteria to be eligible and agree to sign a contract.

Can surrogate mums keep the baby?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

It is a possibility that should not be overlooked, but fortunately you can sign a contract to make sure that both parties have their rights and obligations clear. The contract, in addition to other aspects, establishes that the surrogate agrees to give up the baby after birth. This is the reason why the surrogacy contract is material to every gestational surrogacy arrangement in order to turn into into a safe process.

Can surrogates breastfeed?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

Yes, but it's a very personal opinion that should be agreed upon by both parties. Many surrogates are willing to continue pumping for up to 6 weeks after giving birth. The baby can be fed using this milk either with a bottle or with a supplemental nursing system. This should be negotiated and included in the legal contract prior to the embryo transfer.

Also, it is possible for the intended mother to breastfeed with their own milk their babies. This process is called induced lactation and requires the intake of hormones (via birth control pills) to "trick" the body into thinking that you're pregnant. The hormones will be replaced before the baby arrives with a series of milk-producing medications and herbal supplements.

Can surrogates change their mind?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

It is possible, but your rights as intended parents are protected through the surrogacy contract, hence the important of signing one that contemplates every aspect associated with the process, including potential complications.

The rights of surrogates depend also on the law governing surrogacy in the state where the arrangement is done. We recommend that you discuss this issue with your attorney who specializes in reproductive law in your state.

Can you be a surrogate if you are a virgin?

By Andrea Rodrigo (embryologist).

No, it's unlikely because a basic requirements for surrogates is having their own children. A woman who is a virgin hasn't been through a pregnancy. In other words, their fertility and pregnancy experience cannot be proved, and they are unlikely to be accepted as potential surrogates by an agency.

Suggested for you

We have made a brief summary of the most common profiles of intended parents in this article. To learn more about them, we recommend that you check the following post out: Parents through Surrogacy Guide – The Process Step by Step.

Also, we have created a guide where both surrogates and hopeful intended parents can find everything they should know about surrogacy. Want to get deeper insight on what's actually involved in surrogacy arrangements? Read: What Is Surrogacy & How Does It Work? – Everything You Should Know.

Finally, surrogacy in the United States is a complex procedure due to the lack of a federal law that regulates the process equally by state. To delve deeper into it, check this out: Surrogacy in the USA – Is It Legal in All 50 States?

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