A high-risk pregnancy means that, for some reason, you or your baby require special monitoring throughout your pregnancy, as well as during labor and delivery. Some women have risk factors that qualify their pregnancies as high-risk from the start, while others develop an unexpected complication that causes their normal pregnancy to become high risk.
Regardless of the underlying reason, having a high-risk pregnancy means that you or your baby are more likely to experience unique medical challenges before, during, or after delivery. These challenges can range in severity from minor to life-threatening, making extra care and monitoring from your OB/GYN all the more essential.
Whether you’re currently trying to conceive or you’re already expecting, here’s what you should know about the circumstances that can put your pregnancy in the high-risk category.
When you hear the term high-risk pregnancy, you may automatically associate it with some type of maternal or fetal health problem. But simply being over the age of 35 (especially if it’s your first pregnancy) puts you in the high-risk category, because women past this age are more likely to experience prolonged labor, delivery complications, or require a cesarean delivery. Women of “advanced maternal age” are also more likely to have a baby with a genetic or chromosomal disorder.
Young teenagers fall into the high-risk category, too, as they’re more likely to develop pregnancy-related high blood pressure. They also tend to go into labor earlier and deliver low-birthweight babies more often than more mature women.
Preexisting health conditions automatically place additional risks on any pregnancy. Women who’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness like kidney disease, lupus, thyroid disease, epilepsy, or sickle cell anemia have high-risk pregnancies, as do women who are affected by clinical depression or an anxiety disorder.
Common preexisting medical conditions that automatically make any pregnancy high-risk include:
If you don’t manage your diabetes properly throughout your pregnancy, you have an increased risk of developing gestational hypertension or giving birth early. You’re also more likely to give birth to a very large baby or a baby that has low blood sugar levels, breathing problems, or birth defects.
High blood pressure
Poorly managed high blood pressure can cause your baby to develop more slowly than normal or arrive earlier than expected. Placental abruption, a potentially life-threatening complication of high blood pressure, occurs when the placenta separates from your uterus before your baby is born.
If you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, you’re more likely to develop gestational diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure during your pregnancy. Obesity also makes it more likely that your labor will need to be induced or you’ll require a cesarean delivery.
A pregnancy that starts out normal can become high-risk when certain complications emerge. Women who develop high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, or any other significant health problem during pregnancy become high-risk patients, as do women who develop some type of problem with their placentas.
Preeclampsia, which can emerge during the second half of pregnancy, occurs when you develop high blood pressure and protein leaks into your urine. This high-risk condition can adversely affect your health and significantly slow your baby’s growth and development. Because giving birth is the way to resolve preeclampsia, you may need to deliver early if you develop this condition.
Fetal complications and multiples
Pregnancy risks are higher if you’re having twins, triplets, or other multiples, because carrying more than one baby places additional stress on your body. Your babies are also more likely to develop complications or arrive early.
You may be considered high-risk if you have a history of miscarriage, preterm labor, or cesarean delivery. Likewise, if you’ve already had one child with a birth defect, any subsequent pregnancies may be treated as high-risk. This helps ensure you receive extra diagnostic testing to detect birth defects in utero; in some cases, defects can be treated before birth.
Expectant mothers with herpes, chickenpox, and other dangerous infections require careful fetal monitoring to reduce the risk of birth defects or growth problems. You may also require extra care and monitoring if your baby doesn’t appear to be growing normally.
High-risk specialists you can trust
Because there are so many factors that can put your pregnancy in the high-risk category, our team covers every pertinent aspect of your psychosocial, medical, obstetrical, and family history at your first prenatal visit. We also cover the lifestyle factors, such as smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, that place increased risk on any pregnancy.
If you’d like to know more about high-risk pregnancy diagnosis and care, we can help. Call our office in Beverly Hills, California, or use our easy online booking tool to schedule an appointment with one of our high-risk OB/GYN specialists.