Although pregnancy is wonderful and exciting, there are many health risks and conditions that may make the process concerning and complicated. Typically, it can be a pre-existing medical condition, or a problem diagnosed during pregnancy that can place the mother and/or fetus at an increased risk for complications.
Pre-existing health conditions, medical issues (before or during pregnancy), family history, pregnancy history, weight abnormalities, drug use, smoking, and a mother’s age are just a few factors that may contribute to a high-risk pregnancy situation. However, many risks can be treated and managed during pregnancy if detected and followed. It is important to not stop taking any medications without talking to your doctor first.
- High blood pressure is a definite factor that can be risky for a mother and her fetus. If not controlled, high blood pressure can damage a mother’s kidneys or cause a stroke and increase the risk for low birth weight or preeclampsia.
- Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and usually begins 20 weeks after pregnancy. However, it’s important to note that this condition may also happen to women who have had a history of normal blood pressure. Additionally, there may be no noticeable symptoms since swelling in the legs and water retention are part of a normal pregnancy. The key elements are high blood pressure and protein in the urine which are usually checked during routine prenatal visits. Preeclampsia can lead to strokes, kidney failure, liver failure and other complications. Pre-eclampsia may be managed with oral or IV medications but many times will lead to early delivery of the baby.
- Women with diabetes must carefully monitor and manage their blood sugar levels both before becoming pregnant and throughout their pregnancy. High blood sugar levels early in pregnancy may cause birth defects. Even those who have diabetes under control prior to pregnancy may have changes in during pregnancy which will require more care to ensure a healthy baby and delivery. Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman who didn’t have diabetes prior to pregnancy develops diabetes when she is pregnant. It also increases the risk that a woman and her baby will develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. This needs to be managed just the same as someone with diabetes.
- Lupus and multiple sclerosis are just two autoimmune diseases that can also increase problems during pregnancy and delivery. Autoimmune diseases typically cause inflammation. Therefore, “flare-ups” and other challenges may make a pregnancy uncomfortable and harmful for the fetus. It is highly recommended that those with any type of autoimmune disease work closely with their trusted healthcare provider throughout their pregnancy.
- Uncontrolled thyroid disease is another dangerous issue for a fetus. Regardless if the gland is overactive or underactive, problems such as heart failure, poor weight gain, and brain development are concerns for the fetus.
Alcohol, tobacco, and drug use are all obvious factors that can cause harm to a fetus and make a pregnancy difficult. It’s been known that drinking alcohol can increase a baby’s risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) and sudden infant death syndrome among other problems that can lead to intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Smoking during pregnancy put the fetus at risk for preterm delivery, birth defects, changes in their immune system, and possibly even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Studies have also shown that smoking increases the risk of having a stillbirth or fetal death after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Not only is smoking an issue, but secondhand smoke also puts a developing fetus at risk for health problems.
Lastly, smoking marijuana and using other illegal drugs can also cause harm to a developing fetus and affect the infant’s overall health while potentially causing long-term problems.
As with anything else, family history has much to do with pregnancy. Knowledge of a family’s medical background is crucial for the proper care and treatment of a pregnant woman and her fetus. It’s important to share as much information as possible with a trusted healthcare provider to ensure the best possible pregnancy and delivery.
A woman’s weight is an important factor when trying to conceive a child. Both overweight and underweight women may have trouble conceiving, and if and when they do, many high-risk issues are at stake. Being obese before pregnancy has a number of risks including gestational diabetes, fetus development, and labor and delivery issues. Underweight women are also in danger of having many of the same concerns as their counterparts. A healthy weight is encouraged before, during, and after a pregnancy. A trusted healthcare provider will give guidelines to how much weight should be gained in all circumstances.
Preterm labor can happen to anyone but women with a previous early delivery are at the highest risk. Another high-risk pregnancy issue is a multiple gestation. When a woman is pregnant with more than one fetus, risks increase for premature birth, cesarean section, and possible health issues for newborns such as low birth weight. If you have twins or higher, you will be followed closely by our high-risk team.
A mother’s age is a contributing factor to a high-risk pregnancy. A woman too young such as a teen may go through preterm labor and delivery. They are also more likely to develop pregnancy-related high blood pressure and anemia. Some pregnant teens may not have the resources or support to care for themselves and may be at risk for health issues and concerns.
Advanced maternal age, or pregnancy at/after the age of 35 also has its risks. Health-related issues such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure tend to occur more often. Other issues may be early miscarriage, chromosome disorders, delivery complications and stillbirth.
Each pregnancy is unique, and risks for one may not be the same for another, so it’s important that all questions are addressed with a trusted healthcare provider to ensure a safe, happy, and healthy mom and baby.