High Risk Pregnancy

I have a high-risk pregnancy. What does that mean?

If your pregnancy is high-risk, it means you need extra care to help you have a healthy pregnancy and baby. If you’re being treated for a lifelong (chronic) condition, you may have known for a long time that becoming pregnant carries additional risks. Or you may find out you have a high-risk pregnancy because of a problem that develops for the first time during pregnancy.

Either way, having a high-risk pregnancy means it’s more likely that you or your baby will have health problems during pregnancy, birth, or after delivery. These could be very minor problems, but in some cases, a high-risk condition can be life threatening for a woman or her baby. That’s why a high-risk pregnancy requires extra monitoring by a healthcare provider.

Being told that your pregnancy is high-risk can be a shock, and you’re likely to feel a mix of emotions. You might find it difficult to enjoy your pregnancy because you’re worried about your own health or your baby’s health.

 

What causes a high-risk pregnancy?

Many factors can make a pregnancy high-risk.

You may be considered high risk if you had problems in a previous pregnancy – if you delivered a baby early, for example. This doesn’t mean you’ll definitely experience the same problems again, but your provider will want to keep a closer eye on you as your pregnancy progresses.

Some health conditions can make your pregnancy high-risk too.

  • Blood disorders. If you have a blood disorder, such as sickle cell disease or thalassemia, the additional strain pregnancy puts on your body can make your condition worse.
  • Chronic kidney disease. This condition increases your risk of miscarriage, developing high blood pressure and preeclampsia, and having your baby early. Pregnancy can also put an extra strain on your kidneys.
  • Depression.  Pregnancy and becoming a mom can make you more vulnerable to mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. Untreated depression and some medications for depression are linked with risks for your baby.
  • High blood pressure. You can still have a normal pregnancy, even if you have high blood pressure. However, untreated high blood pressure can cause your baby to grow more slowly than usual or be born early.
  • HIV or AIDS. If you have HIV or AIDS, your baby can become infected before birth, during delivery, or when you breastfeed. Fortunately, medication can dramatically reduce this risk.
  • Lupus. Lupus and other autoimmune diseases can increase your risk of preterm delivery, preeclampsia, and having a small baby. Being pregnant may also increase the likelihood of your disease flaring up or getting worse.
  • Maternal age. Your age can affect how likely you are to have a high-risk pregnancy. Being an older mom (age 35 or older in your first pregnancy) or a younger one (in your teens) puts you at greater risk of some complications and health problems.
  • Obesity. Having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher before pregnancy puts you at greater risk of gestational diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure during your pregnancy.
  • Thyroid disease. Both an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) and an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) during pregnancy can cause problems for you and your baby if the condition isn’t controlled.
  • Type 1 or type 2 diabetes. If your diabetes isn’t managed well, you could be at risk of complications including birth defects, high blood pressure, having your baby early, and having a very big baby (macrosomia).

Addiction to cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs will increase your risk of pregnancy problems. Try to be open and honest with your healthcare provider so she can help you access the support you need:

  • Alcohol. Heavy drinking during pregnancy exposes your baby to an increased risk of stillbirth and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
  • Smoking. If you smoke while you’re pregnant, your baby is at risk of many complications including being born small and being born early.
  • Substance abuse. If you use illegal drugs or misuse prescription medication regularly your baby may suffer from withdrawal symptoms after birth. He may have birth defects, have a low birth weight, or be born early.

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How can I reduce the risk of pregnancy complications?

There are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of pregnancy complications when you're high risk:

If you’re not yet pregnant, schedule a preconception visit with your healthcare provider. Aim to do this at least a few months (or more, depending on your condition) before you start trying to conceive. This gives you time to make any changes your provider recommends before you become pregnant.

  • Find out all you can about your condition and what you can do to stay healthy. Ask your provider for information.
  • Have a healthy lifestyle: Follow your provider’s nutritional guidance, gain the right amount of weight, and stay active if you’re able. Don’t smoke or drink alcohol.
  • Ask your partner, family, and friends for support – this is likely to be a stressful time.
  • Look after your emotional well-being. Take time out for yourself and reduce your stress levels where you can.