What is a High-Risk Pregnancy? Facts You Should Know

By: Women's Care Florida Staff

A positive pregnancy test can be one of the most exciting moments of your life. Once you settle into the routine of caring for your newly pregnant body, you start to wonder about risks. Furthermore, you may wonder if your health history will make your pregnancy difficult. In obstetrics, a term exists that summarizes these types of pregnancies. Doctors call them a high-risk pregnancy.

Here is an overview of high-risk pregnancies to help you become informed and avoid unnecessary risks. If you’re concerned about your risk, discuss this with your doctor at your next prenatal appointment.

High-risk pregnancy definition

Most pregnancies are low-risk and progress normally. But sometimes maternal health becomes problematic during the pregnancy. Additionally, the health of the mother before she gets pregnant can cause severe problems if not managed correctly.

High-risk pregnancies often need special care or a high-risk pregnancy doctor. This is so the doctor can track the risks to ensure they aren’t impacting the fetus or the mother’s health.

Just because someone has this type of pregnancy doesn’t mean that things will “go wrong” or that they won’t be able to deliver their baby naturally. It merely means that they will need more care and regular health check-ins to make sure that everything is going well.

If something serious does develop during the pregnancy because of high-risk factors, a specialist team can quickly manage the issues. Additionally, they will work to ensure that the mother and baby are safe.

High-risk pre-pregnancy conditions and factors

If you have one of these conditions or engage in these lifestyle factors before you get pregnant, your pregnancy might qualify as “high-risk.”

Health Conditions:

  • High blood pressure – When adequately managed by a health professional, your pregnancy can continue normally. The greatest risk is when your high blood pressure is uncontrolled. It can lead to preeclampsia and low birth weight.
  • Diabetes – Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can cause congenital disabilities in early pregnancy. Manage diabetes before getting pregnant to avoid this issue. Also, have a doctor check on it throughout your pregnancy.
  • HIV positive – Transmission of the virus from mother to baby is a significant risk factor. There are ways to reduce the risk significantly. It’s essential to work with your doctor very early in the pregnancy to reduce risk as much as possible.
  • Obesity – Starting pregnancy while obese can lead to an increased risk of diabetes and difficult birth. Work with your doctor to determine the safest way to gain weight during your pregnancy.
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) – The most significant risk with PCOS is higher rates of miscarriage. Other risks include gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and premature birth.
  • Autoimmune diseases – Since autoimmune disease symptoms vary, each case is individual and will need to be managed by your doctor. Some can cause more issues than others.

Lifestyle Factors:

  • Cigarette smoking – Smoking can cause preterm birth, congenital disabilities, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • Alcohol use – Drinking alcohol while pregnant can increase your risk for miscarriage and stillbirth. The alcohol crosses the placental barrier and the fetus absorbs it through the umbilical cord. This can lead to birth defects and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
  • Illegal drug use/prescription drug abuse  – These substances go into the fetus through the umbilical cord similar to alcohol. They can cause various problems, such as birth defects. It’s important to get help from a doctor if you have these issues and are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant.

Age Factors:

  • A young mother (17 or younger) – Young mothers pose higher risks of high blood pressure, anemia, STD/STIs, and preterm birth. They also are less likely to get necessary prenatal care throughout pregnancy.
  • An older mother (first pregnancy at 35 or older) – Older mothers post higher risks for complications during birth, increased c-sections, long labors that don’t advance, and babies with genetic disorders (such as Down Syndrome).

What can the healthcare team do to help?

If you plan to get pregnant soon, visit your doctor for advice on lifestyle changes that will improve your overall health. Seek help to manage medications that might not be compatible with pregnancy. In addition, assess health conditions that might make pregnancy a challenge.

If you’re already pregnant, discuss your options with your doctor and get prenatal care as soon as possible. The earlier you can work on making your pregnancy as healthy as possible, the more likely it will be that you can lessen your chances of being high-risk.

To discuss how to make your pregnancy a safe and healthy experience, make an appointment today with your board-certified physician at Women’s Care, Florida.

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