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.
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 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 a woman’s blood pressure becomes elevated and they have increasing protein in their urine. It is important to recognize the symptoms of preeclampsia, such as headaches, visual changes, swelling or abdominal pain, in order to get evaluated and treated as soon as possible.
Other conditions that can happen in pregnancy are those that may affect the health of an unborn baby, such as preterm birth or birth defects during pregnancy. Preterm birth occurs when a woman has her baby early. This leads to the baby being admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for specialized care after delivery. For women who have a history of preterm birth or any other complication in prior pregnancies, it is a good idea to speak with a health care provider about whether or not there are things to do to prevent these complications from occurring in any future pregnancies.
Pregnancy will also be considered high risk if the baby is diagnosed with a birth defect in utero. Usually, women will have an ultrasound examination during pregnancy to make sure that the baby is growing and developing properly. If there is an abnormality found on ultrasound, further evaluation and monitoring is likely needed to make sure the baby can have the safest course available.
Women with high-risk pregnancies may have more office visits with their obstetric provider than other women. They also may have more blood and urine tests to make sure both the mother and the baby are healthy. Additionally, these women also may have more ultrasound examinations of the baby to make sure he or she is doing well in utero. Obstetric providers may refer women with high-risk pregnancies to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist for further consultation. Women with concerns or questions about their pregnancies are encouraged to write down their questions and ask their obstetric providers during office visits.