Surrogate vs Gestational Carrier

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What’s the difference between a surrogate and a gestational carrier?

It’s a good question, but the answer depends on who you ask and when you ask them.

In fact, the question itself has a problem. That’s because ALL gestational carriers are surrogates, but NOT all surrogates are gestational carriers.  For that reason, it’s better to ask what the difference is between a surrogate, a traditional surrogate, and a gestational carrier/surrogate.

A surrogate is a woman who carries a pregnancy for another individual or couple (intended parent(s)). Surrogates are further classified as a traditional surrogate or gestational carrier/surrogate.

A traditional surrogate is a surrogate who is the biological mother of the child they carry. A surrogacy that uses a traditional surrogate is called a traditional surrogacy.

A gestational carrier (aka gestational surrogate) is a surrogate who is NOT the biological mother of the child she carries. A surrogacy that uses a gestational surrogate is called a gestational surrogacy.

Surrogate Steps and many other surrogate professionals often use the term surrogate to mean gestational carrier/surrogate.  That’s because traditional surrogacy faces a number of emotional and legal complexities and is thus rarely practiced in the United States.

While it’s true we commonly use the shorted “surrogate” to mean a gestational surrogate, for the remainder of this article, we will be very precise when using the terms to match the meanings above in bold and go over the key differences and similarities between a traditional surrogate and a gestational carrier.

What is the difference between a traditional surrogate and a gestational carrier?

As mentioned, a traditional surrogate is the biological mother of the child they carry, whereas a gestational carrier is not.

With a firm understanding of these basic definitions, let’s take a look at what that means for various key aspects of the surrogacy journey.

Who is the Egg Donor

The biological mother of a baby is the woman from whom the child inherits half of their DNA and who is the source of the child’s mitochondrial DNA.

In other words, the biological mother is whoever’s eggs are used to create the child.

As a traditional surrogate is the biological mother, their eggs are used to create the embryo or child they carry during the surrogate pregnancy.

A gestational carrier is NOT the egg donor. Instead, a gestational surrogate carries a baby that is created from the intended mother’s (or an egg donor’s) eggs.


The surrogate baby’s genes come from the sperm and egg used to make the embryo.

As the biological mother and egg donor, half of the baby’s DNA in a traditional surrogacy arrangement comes from the traditional surrogate.

A gestational carrier cannot be the biological mother/egg donor of the child they carry. That said, they can be related to the baby. For example, a gestational carrier may be the intended mother’s sibling, cousin, or other relative and thus share some genes.

However, gestational carriers are usually NOT genetically related to the child they carry. The baby in a gestational surrogacy arrangement is often genetically related to the intended mother, which increases the probability that the child will share physical similarities with the intended mother. If the intended mother’s eggs cannot be used, then the baby will be genetically related to whomever the egg donor is.

Medical Procedures

While much of the surrogacy process is the same for both types of surrogates, the medical procedure used to establish the pregnancy with a traditional surrogate is usually much different than what is used for a gestational carrier.

Most traditional surrogates today are impregnated via intrauterine insemination (IUI). That said, traditional surrogacy has been around for thousands of years, with references in the Bible and ancient Babylonian law, and can technically be established via any method of impregnation, including intercourse, intravaginal insemination, or even advanced medical procedures like IVF.

On the other hand, the only possible method of establishing the surrogate pregnancy in a gestational surrogacy arrangement is in vitro fertilization (IVF). In IVF, eggs are surgically removed from the intended mother/egg donor, fertilized and grown in a lab for 3-7 days, then transferred into the gestational carrier uterus.


Being a compensated surrogate, no matter the type, is illegal in Nebraska, Michigan, and Louisiana, so it is important that, at the very least, your surrogate is not from any of those states.

Interestingly, traditional surrogacy is also outlawed in a number of other states.

Additionally, the strong genetic connection between the baby and a traditional surrogate makes obtaining legal parental rights more difficult in a traditional surrogacy arrangement. Those using a traditional surrogate usually have to obtain parental rights after the baby is born through a formal adoption process. On the other hand, intended parents working with a gestational carrier are usually able to secure their parental rights prior to the birth of their child using a pre-birth order.

Emotional Challenges

Surrogacy is an emotional process, no matter what.

That said, due to traditional surrogates’ strong biological connection with the baby, they usually experience a higher level of emotional turmoil when giving the child up to the intended parents.

Questions to ask when choosing between a traditional surrogate and a gestational carrier

Approximately 80-90% or more of intended parents choose gestational carriers for their surrogate journey.

Usually, that decision is based on their answer to one or more of the below questions.

Who’s egg do you want to use?

If you want to use your own eggs, you’ll need to work with a gestational surrogate.

If that’s not possible or otherwise not that big of a deal for you, then both types of surrogates could potentially work.

How much time do you have?

Very few women are willing to be traditional surrogates due to the emotional difficulties of giving up a biological child. Similarly, there are very few traditional surrogate agencies due to the difficult laws and difficulty in recruiting traditional surrogates.

Unless you already have a traditional surrogate lined up, it will be much easier to find and match quickly with a gestational surrogate than a traditional surrogate.

If time to pregnancy and having a baby as soon as possible is important, you’ll want to work with a gestational carrier.

How risk-tolerant are you?

Due to the biological connection between a traditional surrogate and the baby, traditional surrogacies are riskier and more stressful from the perspective of securing legal parental rights.

When working with a traditional surrogate, parentage is usually established post-birth through a process of the surrogate terminating her parental rights, followed by a stepparent adoption.

When working with a gestational carrier, the intended parent’s legal parental rights can be established prior to birth using a birth order.

If you want to ensure your parental rights with minimal stress or worry about the surrogate turning back on their promise, then a gestational carrier is right for you.

What kind of relationship do you want with your surrogate after your child is born?

Due to the strong biological tie between a traditional surrogate and the baby, many traditional surrogates want to have a continued relationship after the birth.

If you want your child to have fairly limited interaction with the surrogate or at least have more control over the terms of the interactions, then a gestational carrier is right for you.

How involved do you want to be?

Many surrogate professionals, including Surrogate Steps, only work with gestational surrogacies.

If you want to have professional guidance and support throughout the process of finding your surrogate and assisting with treatment coordination, bill/escrow management, securing parentage, legal matters, and more, then gestational surrogacy is certainly the way for you.

The bottom line about surrogates, traditional surrogates, and gestational carriers

When it comes to surrogates, there are two main types: traditional surrogates and gestational carriers.

Due to the emotional and legal benefits of working with gestational carriers, most agencies in the United States and parents choose only to work with gestational carriers.

There may be a time and place for traditional surrogates, though it can be difficult to find a woman willing to act as one and can cause many issues down the road.

If you’re interested in learning more about growing your family using a gestational carrier, we encourage you to contact our team of surrogate professionals or request a free consultation.

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