Understanding High-Risk Pregnancies

By Peter Van Eerden, MD Mar 20, 2017

Most women will have a healthy and uncomplicated pregnancy. However, there are many types of situations that can lead to a high-risk pregnancy. A high-risk pregnancy is one that poses greater risk to the mother or her unborn baby than an uncomplicated pregnancy. For example, women who have preexisting health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes are at an increased risk for complications during their pregnancies.

Preexisting Conditions

Pregnancy places additional physical and emotional stress on a woman’s body. Pregnancy is like a “stress test” for the body and many of these conditions are affected because of the changes that occur in the body due to pregnancy. It is important to know what these effects can be prior to becoming pregnant and if any precautions are needed prior to or during your pregnancy. You should speak with your health care provider about what some of these risks may be.

Conditions During Pregnancy

Women may also develop complications when they are pregnant that can only occur during pregnancy. For example, preeclampsia is a condition unique to pregnancy that is more common in the first pregnancy as well as in younger and older mothers. This is a condition where your blood pressure becomes elevated and you have increasing protein in your urine. It is important to recognize the symptoms of preeclampsia, such as headaches, visual changes, swelling or abdominal pain, so that you can get evaluated and treated as soon as possible. Other conditions that can happen in pregnancy are those that may affect the health of your unborn baby.

Preterm Birth

Preterm birth occurs when you have your baby early. This leads to your baby being admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for specialized care after delivery. If you have a history of preterm birth or any other complication in prior pregnancies, it is a good idea to speak with your health care provider about whether or not there are things you can do to prevent these complications from occurring in any future pregnancies.

Birth Defects During Pregnancy

Your pregnancy will also be considered high risk if your baby is diagnosed with a birth defect in utero. Usually, you will have an ultrasound examination during your pregnancy to make sure that your baby is growing and developing properly. If there is an abnormality found on ultrasound, you will likely need further evaluation and monitoring to make sure your baby can have the safest course available.

Office Visits During a High Risk pregnancy

If you have a high-risk pregnancy, you may have more office visits with your obstetric provider than other women. You also may have more blood and urine tests to make sure you and your baby are healthy. Additionally, you also may have more ultrasound examinations of your baby to make sure he or she is doing well in utero. Your obstetric provider may refer you to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist for further consultation. If you are not certain about something or have any questions during your pregnancy, make sure you write it down and ask your obstetric provider at your office visits.