High Risk Pregnancy:

The term “high-risk pregnancy” describes a case where a pregnant woman has one or more factors that could put her or the fetus at risk for health problems.

In general, a pregnancy may be considered high risk if the pregnant woman:

  • is 35 years old or older
  • is 17 years old or younger
  • is underweight or overweight prior to becoming pregnant
  • is pregnant with more than one fetus
  • has gestational diabetes
  • has gone into premature labor
  • has had a premature baby
  • has had a baby with a birth defect, especially heart or genetic problems
  • has high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lupus, asthma, a seizure disorder, or another longstanding medical problem

Take a deep breath. Even though “high risk” sounds ominous, there’s no reason to panic. The term high-risk pregnancy 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 problem-free pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies. Having a high-risk pregnancy simply means that due to a preexisting health condition or due to a condition you develop during pregnancy you may have a greater chance of pregnancy complications. Because of this, you’ll need extra monitoring and perhaps extra treatment to make sure everything goes smoothly with your health and your baby’s health while you’re expecting. So rest easy because extra precautions will be taken to ensure your healthy pregnancy.

Your practitioner can tell you why you qualify for the high-risk designation, but it’s likely due to one of these preexisting factors or the pregnancy factors listed below.

Preexisting factors for a high-risk pregnancy include:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney problems
  • STDs including HIV
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Autoimmune diseases (such as lupus)
  • Blood disorders
  • Being overweight or underweight
  • Problematic past pregnancies
  • Having had fertility problems
  • Being under 18 or over 35

Factors that can develop during pregnancy include:

  • 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)
  • Being pregnant with multiples

Since your doctor has characterized your pregnancy as high risk, ask him or her to explain to you what specific factors have put you in that category and whether or not you should see a specialist in those areas. For instance, if you had diabetes before pregnancy, you may benefit from seeing an ob-gyn who specializes in endocrinology and pregnancy. Or if you have a heart condition, it would 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 or you seek out a specialist who can consult with your current prenatal practitioner, 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 time to get serious about staying in the best shape you possibly can. Go to all necessary screenings, eat well, take your prenatal vitamin, exercise if the doctor gives you the “all clear” on physical activity, and get enough rest. Your pregnancy requires extra-special care (after all, you are carrying an extra-special bundle in that belly!), 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.