High-Risk Pregnancy: Important Things to Know

Finding out you have a high-risk pregnancy can be very scary. Your mind races, wondering if your baby will be alright.

It is estimated that 10-15% of Australian women have high-risk pregnancies. And while some mums-to-be will have healthy pregnancies with no complications, others will have ups and downs throughout.

But don’t despair. High-risk pregnancies can be manageable. Visit your healthcare provider early in your pregnancy to ensure you and your bub are safe and healthy.

Keep reading to learn about high-risk pregnancies along with other important things to know about.

What is a High-Risk Pregnancy?

A pregnancy is considered high-risk when a woman has a pre-existing medical condition or when she develops a health condition that could put either mum and/or baby’s wellness or life in jeopardy.

In a high-risk pregnancy, the mum or bub can develop health issues before, during, or after delivery.

What Causes High-Risk Pregnancies?

There are a variety of factors that can contribute to the occurrence of a high-risk pregnancy. Here are a few to keep in mind:

  • Maternal age. Being under 18 or older than 35 years of age can put you at higher pregnancy risk.
  • Lifestyle choices. Pregnancy risk is higher if you smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and use illegal drugs.
  • Pre-existing health problems. If you suffer from high blood pressure, epilepsy, thyroid disease, heart or blood disorders, unmanaged asthma, infections, or have weight issues (overweight, underweight) your chances of a high-risk pregnancy increase.
  • Pregnancy complications. A mum can develop complications during pregnancy, such as unusual placenta position, poor baby growth (less than it should be for gestational age), gestational diabetes, and rhesus (Rh) sensitization (a condition that can be potentially serious – happens when mum’s blood group is Rh negative and bub’s is Rh positive).
  • Multiple pregnancies. Carrying more than one baby can put your health at higher risk.
  • Pregnancy history. If you’ve had pre-term pregnancies in the past, pregnancy-related hypertension disorders, a C-section, or a baby with a heart or genetic disorder you may be at higher risk for future pregnancy complications.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Some STDs can cross the placenta and infect the baby in the womb or during delivery, putting you and your baby at higher risk during pregnancy.

Can I Prevent Having a High-Risk Pregnancy?

While there may be risk factors you may be unable to control, such as pre-existing conditions, multiple births, prior C-sections, etc., there are things you can do to reduce your risk of having pregnancy complications.

You can make lifestyle changes before becoming pregnant or when you become pregnant, such as avoiding drugs, alcohol, and smoking.

You can work towards maintaining a healthy body weight before or during pregnancy.

If you have a pre-existing condition, you can work with your healthcare provider to manage it as best as possible.

Additionally, if you take long-term medications for pre-existing conditions, you can consult your physician to ensure they are safe to continue while pregnant.

And you can plan your pregnancies when you’re between 18 and 34 years old.

Signs You May Have a High-Risk Pregnancy

Although you may not start as a high-risk pregnancy, there is a chance you could develop complications. If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your healthcare provider immediately:

  • Lasting abdominal pain or cramping in the lower belly
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling dizzy or fainting
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Baby not moving as much or at all
  • Fever over 38⁰C
  • Heart palpitations
  • Extreme nausea or vomiting
  • Severe, persistent headaches
  • Swelling, redness, or pain in your face or extremities
  • Laboured breathing
  • Vaginal bleeding or unusual or watery discharge
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Changes in vision

Diagnosing a High-Risk Pregnancy

Early prenatal care is essential for all mums to be. It is during the early visits that you’ll share your health history as well as any issues from past pregnancies.

These visits will help determine if you have a high-risk pregnancy.

high risk pregnancy on ultrasound
Source: Bigstock

Depending on your symptoms or situation, your physician may recommend one or several tests.

  • Blood and urine testing. Blood testing helps check for genetic conditions or birth defects. A urine test can also detect infections and infectious diseases.
  • Ultrasounds. It uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your little one in the womb to check for birth defects. Ultrasounds will also be used to check bub’s growth and measure your cervical length to determine if you are at risk of preterm labour.
  • Biophysical profile. Created using ultrasound and a non-stress test around the 28th week of pregnancy to check amniotic fluid and bub’s breathing, movements, and heart rate.
  • Invasive genetic testing. Depending on your condition, your physician may recommend amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS). These tests do carry a small risk; therefore, it is important to discuss them with your partner and your healthcare provider.
  • Amniocentesis is usually done after the 15th week of pregnancy to identify certain genetic conditions and problems of the brain or spinal cord (neural tube defects) by collecting amniotic fluid.
  • With CVS, cells are removed from the placenta, usually between 10 to 12 weeks of pregnancy, to identify certain genetic conditions.

Managing a High-Risk Pregnancy

How you manage your high-risk pregnancy will depend on your risk factors, symptoms, and test results.

Your physician will likely come up with a customized care plan that may include more frequent follow-ups, consultation with a high-risk pregnancy specialist or other specialists (such as a geneticist), more ultrasounds, blood pressure monitoring at home, medication management, and dietary changes.

Depending on your situation, your physician may also recommend labour induction or a C-section for your safety and your baby’s.

While some women stay healthy and show no symptoms, others may have many ups and downs.  Do your best to remain calm and positive, attend your prenatal visits, and follow your physician’s care plan to ensure you have as healthy a pregnancy as possible.

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Gloria Ruby Ramirez is a writer, mother, and lover of coffee, twinkle lights, and rain who believes in the magical power of words. She is passionate about parenting, mental health, and the environment. She is a former agricultural microbiologist/plant pathologist with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from Arizona State University. Born in the desert of northern Mexico, she is mum to her beautifully energetic son and Shih Tzu, Gerty. When not writing, Gloria can be found spending time with her son and family, reading, or embroidering.

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