Are You at Risk? What to Know About High-Risk Pregnancies

August 30th, 2019
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Despite what popular culture has us believe, no two pregnancies are exactly alike.

Movies and TV shows skew our vision of what pregnancy and birth should look like. You pee on a stick, vomit for a few months, enjoy a “Better Homes and Garden” baby shower, and wear cute maternity clothes. Finally, your water dramatically breaks and you’re rushed to the hospital to deliver your bundle of joy. Then the screen cuts away to a supermodel-styled mom cradling her sleeping baby moments after birth.

In a perfect world, this would be the reality of having children. However, many pregnancies don’t follow the idealized version.

Every day approximately 6 – 8% of expectant mothers in the world are experiencing what’s known as a ‘high-risk’ pregnancy. What does this mean, exactly?

While any woman over the age of 35 is technically considered high-risk, it’s a common misconception that advanced maternal age is the only contributing factor in these pregnancies. On the contrary, there are several reasons a doctor can classify a woman’s gestation as high-risk.

What Does the Term ‘High-Risk’ Mean?

During your first prenatal appointment, your doctor will evaluate different factors about your health and the health of your baby or babies (if you’re expecting multiples). You’ll also receive a variety of testing, such as a blood and urine tests.

Using the results from your appointment and these tests, your doctor will be able to determine whether you’re experiencing a high-risk pregnancy.

A high-risk pregnancy is a pregnancy involving one or more common risk factors. These risks can endanger your health or the health of your baby. Additionally,  pre-term labor can occur in these situations. To overcome these difficulties, your gestational health will be carefully observed throughout your pregnancy.

What are the Most Common Reasons for High-Risk Pregnancies?

Despite significant advances in the maternal health industry, there are plenty of reasons a woman will need closer monitoring than usual throughout her pregnancy.

High-risk pregnancies can affect any woman, no matter her age, ethnicity, or lifestyle. Understanding the reason behind your diagnosis is an essential part of maintaining a healthy pregnancy. There are several common reasons a woman might be more likely to have a high-risk pregnancy.

Advanced Maternal Age

While it’s certainly not the only reason women have high-risk pregnancies, advanced maternal age is a common one.

In terms of fertility, any woman over the age of 35 falls into this category. If you’ve ever heard the outdated term ‘geriatric pregnancy’, it refers to this group of women. Once you’ve entered this age bracket, conceiving becomes much harder due to issues like low ovarian reserves and abnormal chromosomes.

Furthermore, once some older women have successfully conceived, their body isn’t always capable of supporting the baby the way it needs to be during gestation.

Pre-Existing Medical Conditions

Sustaining a pregnancy can be problematic for women with certain pre-existing medical conditions. Some of the diseases and conditions that can interfere with a woman’s ability to carry her child are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Lung, kidney, or heart problems
  • Diabetes
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • HIV

If a woman has suffered a previous pregnancy loss or from other reproductive issues, it would also be  classified as a pre-existing condition. Events like these would more than likely result in future pregnancies being labeled high-risk.

Medical Conditions That Arise During Pregnancy

Doctors and patients don’t always know a pregnancy is high-risk from the start. In fact, specific conditions affecting a woman’s ability to carry her baby can be a result of the pregnancy itself. In these situations, the circumstances usually have little to do with the mother’s pre-pregnancy health.

  • Some of the most common high-risk pregnancy conditions are:
  • Preeclampsia
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Placenta previa
  • Premature
  • Pregnancies with multiples

Are There Ways to Prevent Complications During a High-Risk Pregnancy?

One of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby during a high-risk pregnancy is to keep your prenatal appointments. Consistent doctor supervision is vital to ensuring your child’s health and development.

Beyond medical care, you should try to maintain a healthy diet and take your prenatal vitamin every day. If your doctor okays exercise, make sure to treat your body gently.

Combatting anxiety and worry with practices like yoga or meditation may prove to be very beneficial. High-risk pregnancies tend to be stressful, so many doctors suggest expectant mothers keep their stress and anxiety levels under control as much as possible.

What Kind of Monitoring is Required During High-Risk Pregnancies?

During your high-risk gestation, there’s a good chance your doctor will send you for specialized monitoring and testing. Some of the most common tests performed during these pregnancies are:

  • Targeted ultrasounds: Using ultrasound technology, your ob/gyn will be able to take a closer look at suspected problems to see how they’re developing.
  • Amniocentesis: Around the 15th week of pregnancy, your doctor may collect a sample of amniotic fluid from around the baby. This test can help determine if your baby has any genetic conditions or abnormalities.
  • Cordocentesis: During this diagnostic procedure, a small sample of your baby’s blood is retrieved from the umbilical cord. The blood is then tested for genetic and blood conditions.
  • Cervical Length Ultrasound: If your doctor believes you’re at risk for pre-term labor, they may perform an ultrasound to measure the length of your cervix. This test will help determine how high the risk is.

High-Risk Pregnancies Can Still Turn into Healthy Babies

If your doctor believes your pregnancy is high-risk, please don’t fret. While certain considerations must be made to protect mother and baby, you stand a high chance of delivering a happy, healthy little one.

In the event of a high-risk pregnancy, the best thing a woman can do for herself is listen to her doctor.

It’s very important to reduce any stress and anxiety by being kind to yourself and gentle on your body. By allowing yourself the time to rest and simply enjoy your pregnancy, you’ll be paving the way to a healthy delivery of your baby.


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