What does a high-risk pregnancy mean?

February 21, 2020 | by Jill Moran, MD
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Many, if not all, expectant moms worry about the health of their baby. Hearing that your pregnancy is high risk can amplify those worries. But a high-risk pregnancy doesn’t automatically mean that your pregnancy will be more difficult or that your baby won’t be healthy.

What exactly does a high-risk pregnancy mean? Here are eight facts about high-risk pregnancies:

There are certain factors that can make a pregnancy high risk.

A high-risk pregnancy means that extra care and monitoring is needed in order to have a healthy pregnancy and delivery. The following conditions may lead to a high-risk pregnancy:

  • Being underweight or overweight
  • A current or previous health condition:
    • High blood pressure/hypertension
    • Diabetes
    • Autoimmune disorder (e.g., lupus, thyroid disease)
    • Cancer
    • Blood disorder (e.g., sickle cell disease)
    • Chronic kidney disease
    • HIV or AIDS, STIs (herpes)
    • Anxiety and depression
  • Problems in a previous pregnancy (e.g., premature delivery, miscarriage)
  • Being pregnant with twins or other multiples

Some pregnancies can start low risk and become high risk.

Some pregnancies start high risk and others become high risk as they progress. You may develop conditions while pregnant or during delivery, such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, that can put you in the high-risk category. 

Sometimes the results of prenatal testing can make your pregnancy high risk. Prenatal testing can help you assess the risk that your baby will be born with a certain birth defect or genetic or chromosomal condition. Counseling is available after genetic screenings.

During a high-risk pregnancy, your doctor will closely monitor you.

If your pregnancy is considered high risk, your doctor will closely monitor your health and the progression of your pregnancy. You may be referred to a maternal fetal medicine specialist.

You may have specialized testing during pregnancy to evaluate your developing baby. This may include more frequent prenatal visits, blood tests, regular fetal heart rate monitoring, chorionic villus sampling, amniocentesis, fetal echocardiography, detailed fetal ultrasound screening, glucose monitoring (if you have diabetes) and consultation for maternal or fetal problems.

It’s important to find a doctor with expertise in high-risk pregnancies.

Women with high-risk pregnancies should consider receiving care from a specialized team of doctors, including a maternal fetal medicine specialist (also called a perinatologist). A maternal fetal medicine specialist is an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) with special training and experience in caring for women who have complicated or high-risk pregnancies. A maternal fetal medicine specialist will follow your baby’s growth and manage your health, to keep you both as healthy as possible.

A hospital delivery is recommended for women with high-risk pregnancies.

A hospital is the best option for high-risk pregnant women. Pre-term labor is common in high-risk pregnancies, especially for women having multiples. Also, sometimes a high-risk pregnancy can result in problems during labor. Hospitals have the proper equipment, technology and staff to closely monitor the birth process and handle complications if they arise.

Unhealthy lifestyle habits increase your risk of problems during pregnancy.

How you take care of yourself during pregnancy is essential — especially when your pregnancy is high risk. Smoking, drinking alcohol or substance abuse increases your risk of problems. There is no safe level of smoking or drinking during pregnancy. Even a “light” habit can have devastating effects on your baby’s growth and development, such as miscarriage, prematurity, birth defects, growth deficiencies, stillbirth and sudden infant death syndrome.

There are things you can do to reduce high-risk pregnancy complications.

If your pregnancy is considered high risk, there are things you can do to increase your and your baby’s health and avoid pregnancy complications:

  • Schedule a preconception visit.
  • Get to a healthy weight before becoming pregnant.
  • Find a specialist in high-risk pregnancies, such as a maternal fetal medicine specialist.
  • Learn about your condition and what makes your pregnancy high risk.
  • Have early and regular prenatal visits with your doctor.
  • Change your diet to include foods that are rich in protein, fruits and green leafy vegetables.
  • Quit bad habits like smoking and drinking.
  • Stay as active as possible.
  • Reach out to others for support for your emotional well-being. 

It’s possible to have a healthy baby even if the pregnancy is high risk.

It’s natural to have concerns about the health of your baby during a high-risk pregnancy. While high risk means there’s a greater chance of unpredictability in your pregnancy, it doesn’t guarantee there will be complications. Early, regular and good prenatal care makes it possible for many women with high-risk pregnancies go on to have safe deliveries and healthy, happy babies.

At the Maternal Fetal Medicine Clinic at Elmhurst Hospital and the Perinatology Center at Edward Hospital, you’ll receive expert care from physicians experienced in handling the most complicated cases for expectant mothers and newborns, including rare and complex conditions. Learn more about care for high risk pregnancies at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, we’re fully equipped to handle high-risk deliveries and care for newborns who require special attention, with Edward Hospital’s Level III Newborn Intensive Care Unit and Elmhurst Hospital’s Level IIe Special Care Nursery.

Find a maternal fetal medicine specialist.

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