High-Risk Pregnancy: Causes, Effects & Risks

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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A high-risk pregnancy is something that many women face all over the world. Whenever a woman becomes pregnant, the hope is for a normal and healthy pregnancy, followed by the delivery of a beautiful and healthy child. However, there are a number of factors that can contribute to a high-risk pregnancy, as well as specific treatments and adjustments that must be made for a woman experiencing this type of pregnancy.

What is a High-risk Pregnancy?

By definition, a high-risk pregnancy is a pregnancy that could threaten the health or life of the mother or the unborn child. While there is always an implicit risk to a pregnancy, a high-risk pregnancy tends to be affected by pre-existing conditions or factors that the mother often knows about. At other times, however, pregnancy can become high-risk after fertilization, based on certain changes in the body, or new medical developments.

Finding out that you have a high-risk pregnancy can be very upsetting, and may come as a shock, but the extensive research done on this subject means that there are many resources to rely on. If your doctor has told you that you are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy, there are many ways for you to have a safe pregnancy and delivery, as well as a happy and healthy child.

Pregnant woman with exposed belly looking uncomfortable

Pruritic urticarial papules & plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) rash may appear during late pregnancy. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Causes of a High-risk Pregnancy

The main causes of a high-risk pregnancy consist of specific health issues, including pregnancy-related conditions.

Gestational Diabetes – If you have gestational diabetes, you need to alter your pregnancy diet to keep it under control, or else you may face a higher risk of preterm birth, gestational hypertension, and preeclampsia.

High Blood Pressure – Going into a pregnancy with high blood pressure means a higher risk of kidney problems in the mother, as well as the risk of low birth weight and premature labor.

Diabetes – Fluctuating blood sugar levels can be detrimental to an infant within the first few weeks of the pregnancy, so it is critical that you maintain a stable blood sugar while you are trying to get pregnant, and throughout the early stages of your pregnancy.

Obesity – If you are overweight, you are at a higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, and chronic diseases; maintaining a healthy weight before you get pregnant is therefore highly recommended.

Multiple Birth – If you are carrying twins, triplets or other multiples, the strain on the body will be far higher, and the dangers of birth are also greater. Extensive planning and prenatal checkups are more important with multiple gestations.

Autoimmune Disease – Autoimmune diseases respond in unpredictable ways to pregnancy, but a weakened immune system and the effects of certain diseases can increase the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight.

Preeclampsia – If you begin to suffer from high blood pressure and protein in your urine, it indicates preeclampsia, which could require an emergency delivery if it is late enough in the pregnancy.

Risk Factors for a High-risk Pregnancy

Some of the major risk factors for a high-risk pregnancy include smoking, alcohol use, age, and first-time pregnancy, among others.

Smoking – Smoking tobacco increases blood pressure and puts a strain on the immune system to constantly filter out toxins and carcinogens from the body’s system. This makes the entire pregnancy more dangerous and increases the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and premature birth.

Alcohol – Excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to birth defects, cognitive disabilities, hearing problems and hyperactivity disorders, to name a few.

Age – If you are a teenager or a woman over the age of 35, you are naturally at more risk during pregnancy, particularly if this is your first pregnancy.

Effects of a High-risk Pregnancy

A high-risk pregnancy will have a number of effects throughout the course of your term, as well as during labor and the post-delivery months. Some of these effects include more frequent checkups, additional medication, need for a specialized hospital, the potential for preterm birth or birth defects, and an elevated risk of maternal mortality, among others.

Specialized Hospital: Depending on your specific condition, you may need to deliver the baby at a different hospital with physicians who specialize in dealing with high-risk pregnancies.

Medication: You may need to go on certain medications to control high-risk medical conditions, such as blood pressure medication or insulin injections, to mitigate the effects of the diseases on your child.

Checkups: More prenatal checkups will be required for a high-risk pregnancy, particularly regular ultrasounds to ensure that development is happening normally.

Preterm Birth: One of the most common effects of a high-risk pregnancy is preterm birth, which may be artificially induced or will happen naturally, both of which can pose a threat to the health and wellness of the child.

Treatments for High-risk Pregnancy

The best ways to reduce your chances of having a high-risk pregnancy are to change your lifestyle, gain weight appropriately while pregnant, schedule regular prenatal checkups, and eat a healthy diet.

Weight Gain

Gaining weight during pregnancy is normal and natural, but it is important to gain weight slowly, and in moderation, based on your BMI. Rapid weight gain can increase your risk of diabetes and gestational hypertension.

Lifestyle Factors

If you consume or use any dangerous substances, such as tobacco, alcohol or controlled substances, you should stop as soon as possible, before you conceive a child.

Prenatal Checkups

Getting a comprehensive checkup before you start trying to conceive is an opportunity for your doctor to advise you on how to improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy.

Diet

Maintaining a healthy diet is critical to health, as well as the natural development of your child. Alter your eating habits before you get pregnant so remaining on the diet will be easier!

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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