High-Risk Pregnancy – What The Doctors Are Looking Out For

Some pregnancies are more difficult than others, for various reasons. Here’s what doctors look for to determine if yours is high-risk.

Cropped image of pregnant woman at doctor. Handsome doctor with stethoscope is listening to baby. Last months of pregnancy.

Pregnancy is one of the most natural states in the world. And, generally, the process goes pretty smoothly. There are some factors though that can make it more difficult – in which case, your medical consultant will want to keep an eye on you. A high-risk pregnancy is one where the life of either mother or baby is statistically more likely to be in danger compared to a typical pregnancy. Here’s what doctors are looking for to determine if yours is one of them.

Your age

This doesn’t just apply to older mums-to-be. Pregnant teenagers also face their fair share of potential problems. Under-17s are more likely to develop anaemia (a lack of red blood cells) and high blood pressure. There’s also more chance of them going into an early labour. Not all risks are medical, either. Teens are less likely to make and keep appointments with health care professionals to monitor their pregnancy.

At the other end of the scale, pregnancies in women aged over 35 are deemed to be higher risk. This is especially the case for first-time mothers, who are more likely to end up having a C-section, longer labour and delivery complications. The risk of miscarriage or carrying a baby with a genetic disorder increases further in women over 40 years old.

Existing health issues

There are certain medical conditions that automatically flag up your pregnancy as high-risk. It’s essential you talk to your doctor or consultant to discuss any additional care or precautions you need to take if you have any of the following:

  • High blood pressure. Plenty of women with blood pressure problems have trouble-free pregnancies and healthy babies, but it needs to be controlled. There’s a greater chance of developing pre-eclampsia or kidney damage, and your baby might have a lower-than-average birthweight.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). As well as making it harder for a woman to become pregnant in the first place, PCOS carries a higher rate of miscarriage. You’re also more likely to develop gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, and may give birth prematurely.
  • If you’re diabetic, it’s especially important to manage your blood sugar levels before you even become pregnant. High levels during the first few weeks of pregnancy – before many women even know they’re having a baby – can cause birth defects.
  • Kidney, thyroid & auto-immune diseases. Each of these carries its own problems. Many women experience flare-ups, while others may report an improvement in their symptoms. Make sure you’re fully aware of the need for additional medication or treatment. For your baby, dangers can include an increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth or stillbirth, birth defects, heart failure and poor weight gain.
  • If you used fertility drugs to become pregnant, you’ll have a higher chance of developing complications.

Lifestyle factors

Whether you drink or smoke – and how much – will determine how your pregnancy progresses. Drug use is another key factor to consider.

Alcohol passes directly to the unborn child via the umbilical cord, and drinking in pregnancy is linked to a higher chance of miscarriage or stillbirth. Babies born to mothers who drink excessively while pregnant can be born with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Effects can include abnormal facial features, intellectual disabilities, sensory problems and hyperactivity.

Smoking is commonly linked with premature birth, low birthweight and short stature, and an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). If the expectant mother regularly uses drugs, as well as putting her own health at risk, her baby might be born with a drug dependency.

Weight is another potential issue. Obesity can contribute to pregnancy complications and increase the chance of gestational diabetes. If a woman is underweight, this can be unhealthy both for her pregnancy and her growing baby.

Pregnancy-related conditions

If a woman is expecting twins or triplets (or more!) she is more likely to give birth early – often before her 37th week. There’s also an increased chance that she’ll need a C-section.

Some women develop gestational diabetes and will need to manage this with a personalised diet and treatment plan. If uncontrolled, there is a greater risk of premature labour and birth, pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure.

Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia are potentially fatal conditions, and mums-to-be will sometimes be admitted to hospital to manage them properly. Pre-eclampsia is marked by a sudden rise in blood pressure, while eclampsia is more severe and can result in seizures or a coma.

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