Even though “high risk” might sound ominous, the term does not in any way mean that you’re destined to have problems with your pregnancy. In fact, the majority of women who have so-called high-risk pregnancies go on to have few or no problems and give birth to healthy babies.
What is a high-risk pregnancy?
Having a high-risk pregnancy simply means that due to a pre-existing health condition — or one you develop while you’re expecting — you may have a greater change of pregnancy complications. Because of that chance, you’ll need extra monitoring and perhaps extra treatment to make sure everything goes smoothly with your health and your baby’s.
Your practitioner can tell you why you qualify for the high-risk designation, but it’s likely due to one of these pre-existing factors or pregnancy conditions listed below.
Pre-existing factors for a high-risk pregnancy
Pre-existing factors for high-risk pregnancies may include the following:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Kidney problems
- Sexually transmitted infections, including HIV
- Autoimmune diseases (such as lupus)
- Blood disorders
- Being overweight or underweight
- Problematic past pregnancies
- Having had fertility problems
- Being under the age of 18
- Being over the age of 35, referred to as advanced maternal age
- Having an in vitro fertilization (IVF) pregnancy
Factors that can develop during pregnancy to classify it as high-risk
Sometimes high-risk pregnancies are labeled as such because of conditions that crop up once you’re already pregnant or because your type of pregnancy is inherently high-risk. These include:
- Being pregnant with multiples
- Preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy that can affect the mom-to-be’s liver, kidneys and brain)
- Gestational diabetes (diabetes that develops during pregnancy)
- Preterm labor (labor that starts before week 37)
- Placenta previa (a placenta that’s lying unusually low in the uterus so that it may be covering the cervix, which can cause bleeding and early delivery)
- HELLP Syndrome (a rare but dangerous complication usually brought on by high blood pressure or preeclampsia)
- Placental abruption (where the placenta separates early from the uterine wall)
- Placenta accreta (when the placenta grows too deeply into the uterine wall, which can cause bleeding later in pregnancy and potentially hemorrhaging during labor and delivery)
- Preterm premature rupture of membranes
- Infections such as Zika, listeria or toxoplasmosis
- Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome
Since your doctor has characterized your pregnancy as high-risk, ask him or her to explain what specific factors put you in that category and whether or not you should see a specialist. For instance, if you had diabetes before pregnancy, you may benefit from seeing an OB/GYN who specializes in pregnancy and endocrinology.
Or if you have a heart condition, it may be a good idea to have a cardiologist on your medical team — someone you can check in with regularly as your pregnancy progresses. The more knowledgeable your practitioners are about your specific condition, the better chance you have of reducing any risks.
Whether you end up going to a practitioner who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, such as a maternal fetal medicine (MFM) physician (you can find one at the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine’s website), or you seek out a specialist who can consult with your current prenatal provider, your doctors should also be able to determine if you need any medication, and if so, which drugs you can safely take during these nine months.
Once you’ve nailed down the best doctor (or doctors) for you, and you’ve worked together to figure out your course of action, do your best to stay on top of your health. This is the time to get serious about taking excellent care of yourself. Go to all of your prenatal appointments, get all necessary pregnancy tests and screenings, eat well, take your prenatal vitamin, fit in regular pregnancy-safe exercise if the doctor gives you the “all clear” and get enough rest.
Your pregnancy requires extra special care for that extra special bundle, so follow your doctor’s orders and try to relax. Thanks to advances in medical technologies and good prenatal care, you are more likely than ever to have a healthy pregnancy, delivery and baby.
Wishing you a problem-free pregnancy,
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