If you plan to have a baby, or you’re already pregnant, are you aware of the potential risks?
All pregnant women want a safe and risk-free pregnancy, and so long as you are healthy, there is a good chance that everything will go smoothly. Unfortunately, however, there are always some risks, and a high-risk pregnancy can affect the health and welfare of both mother and baby.
Every woman should know what makes a pregnancy high-risk before they get pregnant, and they should also know what to look for while they’re pregnant in order to mitigate problems as quickly as possible.
You should always go through the risks with your OBGYN or Midwife as they will vary from person to person and may not all be listed here. However, here are the more common factors that may put a pregnancy in the high-risk category.
What is a “High Risk Pregnancy?”
Most people think of pregnancy as a fairly routine (if life-changing) process. But there are inherent risks involved with each and every pregnancy. That doesn’t mean every pregnancy is “high risk.” Instead, physicians refer to those pregnancies where risks of complications are elevated as “high risk pregnancies.”
The risk, in this case, is modeled by research and statistics, and represents how likely a specific negative outcome might be. A high risk pregnancy means you have a higher than normal chance for a negative outcome. Such a negative outcome is not a certainty, but it is certainly cause for increased monitoring and active symptom management.
You can also talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about preventative steps you can take to limit your risks. For many women, a high risk pregnancy proceeds smoothly and normally. For others, intervention can make a dangerous situation much more manageable. You can always talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about how your risk factors stack up–and how you can manage possible outcomes.
Pregnancy-Related Health Conditions
There are two specific conditions women develop during a pregnancy that can create a high-risk pregnancy as well as exacerbate other risks: gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Some women who fall into higher risk categories (such as age) are more prone to these conditions.
Gestational diabetes is a type that develops during pregnancy. It can be managed with a proper treatment plan and diet. However, if not controlled, there is a higher risk for pregnancy and delivery problems.
Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and can affect various organs in the mother’s body. If you do not get treatment for this condition, it can lead to serious health problems for both mother and baby.
Age Affects Pregnancy Risks
In general, a woman is more prone to a high-risk pregnancy if she is in her teens or over 35.
Women in their teens have a higher potential for various risk factors including preeclampsia, gestational high blood pressure, early labor, and complications related to STIs. After age 35, the possibility for infertility increases as do the potential pregnancy risks.
Research shows older women are more likely to need a cesarean and are more likely to have problems during labor or a long labor. The risk of having a child with genetic disorders also increases as a woman ages.
That being said, it’s essential that women understand that a perfectly healthy pregnancy and delivery is possible after age 35, so long as the mother is healthy.
Pregnancy with more than one baby is automatically riskier than a single-birth, no matter what other risk factors are present, and this risk multiplies depending on the number of babies. Complications like preeclampsia, early labor, and premature births are common for those carrying multiples.
General (Pre-existing) Health Conditions
Many different health problems can result in higher risk pregnancies. If you are pregnant or considering it, your OBGYN or Midwife should give you a thorough assessment in any case.
Standard tests from your healthcare provider should cover the areas that need to be checked for a high-risk pregnancy, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and STIs. Still, you need to let them know of any conditions that could potentially affect the baby including addiction (tobacco and alcohol use) or mental health issues.
High blood pressure, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), diabetes, kidney disease, autoimmune diseases (including HIV/AIDS), thyroid disease, and infertility are all conditions to bring to a doctor’s attention.
Being Overweight (Obese) or Underweight
Because obesity puts mothers at risk for more health problems, these health conditions (such as high blood pressure) may be exacerbated during pregnancy. Generally, carrying excess weight will lead to a potentially more difficult pregnancy in many ways. But it’s worth noting that women who are severely underweight may face various complications as well.
Obesity-related risks during pregnancy include high blood pressure, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, stillbirth, tube defects, depression, and even surgical infection. Early births and miscarriages tend to happen more often in obese individuals as well.
How Can I Prevent a High Risk Pregnancy?
In some cases, there are steps you can take to limit risk factors that may be present. This may help you lower the overall risk associated with your pregnancy. Some of the most potent steps include:
Scheduling a preconception appointment. During this appointment, you’ll be able to discuss your general health and all of your pregnancy concerns with your OBGYN or Midwife. That said, not all conceptions are planned, so preconception appointments aren’t feasible for everyone. Consulting with a healthcare professional as soon as you think you may be pregnant can, in many cases, accomplish similar results.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle. This means eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, limiting your sugar intake, and being sure to get a healthy amount of exercise. Everyone’s body is different, so you can talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about what constitutes a realistically healthy lifestyle for you.
Avoid high-risk substances and chemicals. Smoking tobacco products is generally bad for your health, so you’ll be able to lower your risk of pregnancy complications simply by quitting. Avoiding all risky substances–such as tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs–can similarly help you prevent a high risk pregnancy.
Schedule regular prenatal check-ins with your Midwife or OBGYN. Your physician will likely recommend a specific interval for prenatal checks, depending on your overall health and risk factors. You may also be given prenatal vitamins to help bolster your nutrition throughout your pregnancy. This can help manage some possible risk factors that would otherwise contribute to a high risk pregnancy.
In some cases, you won’t be able to avoid a high-risk pregnancy. You may simply have a specific medical history or underlying conditions that you cannot change. And many parents don’t want to wait for a “perfect” health situation before having a child (especially because that perfect situation may never come).
That’s why it’s important to take steps to successfully manage the risks you do experience. To do that, make sure your OBGYN or Midwife is aware of your current health status, your medical history, and any risk factors you may know about. That way, you and your OBGYN or Midwife can both take therapeutic or preventive steps to make your pregnancy as healthy as possible.
Talk to Your OBGYN or Midwife
Whether or not your pregnancy is classified as higher risk, it’s vital that you discuss your situation regularly with your OBGYN or Midwife. Often, with proper treatment plans, risk factors can be mitigated, and a healthy pregnancy is possible.
But it’s important to recognize that, even if you aren’t in a high-risk category, certain health complications can develop during pregnancy. Stay up to date with your OBGYN or Midwife so that you can mitigate risks where possible.
If you have more questions or feel that you might have a high-risk pregnancy, contact us today to schedule an appointment with an OBGYN or Midwife.