Learning you’re expecting a baby is an exciting and joyous time. If you’ve been diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy, however, those emotions can quickly turn to anxiety and concern.
The truth is that some women, at one point or another, may find themselves hearing the words “high-risk.” Thankfully with early and regular prenatal care, many women with high-risk pregnancies can still have healthy babies and safe outcomes.
If you’re recently facing a high-risk pregnancy, don’t panic. Read on to learn the risk factors for high-risk pregnancies and what you can do to take care of you and your baby.
What does a high-risk pregnancy mean?
“High-risk pregnancy is a very broad term that simply means you or your baby may need extra care and monitoring before, during and after delivery,” said Colleen Foos, MD, an OBGYN with Banner Health Clinic in Greeley, CO.
There are many common reasons your provider may identify your pregnancy as high-risk. “Sometimes a high-risk pregnancy is the result of a medical condition present before pregnancy,” Dr. Foos said. “Risk factors may also change as the pregnancy progresses. Rest assured, your OB provider is assessing you for developing risk factors at every visit. This is why prenatal care is important.”
Common risk factors include:
- Maternal age (being very young or older than 35)
- Current or previous health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders and kidney disease
- Previous uterine surgery or cesarean delivery
- Being pregnant with twins or multiples
- Pregnancy due to assisted reproductive technology like IVF
- Complications during pregnancy, such as bleeding, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia or an abnormal ultrasound of the uterus, ovaries or cervix
What to expect after the diagnosis
If your pregnancy is considered high-risk, your provider will closely monitor your health and the health of your baby. “This could mean more frequent visits, testing, ultrasounds and possible consultations with other specialists depending on the reason for the high-risk,” Dr. Foos said. “The plan for any individual patient will depend on the disease process or high-risk situation that it involves, and your OB provider will discuss the individualized plan with you.”
Steps you can take to promote a healthy pregnancy
It’s natural to feel a bit on edge and scared by the diagnosis, but the following are steps you can take to promote a healthy pregnancy.
- Schedule a preconception appointment: If you aren’t pregnant yet, but believe you may be high risk, schedule a pregnancy planning visit with your OBGYN. This helps them identify potential risk factors and set up a plan before pregnancy occurs.
- Seek early prenatal care: This is the most important factor for prevention and treatment.
- Avoid risky behaviors: Smoking, alcohol, recreational drugs, tobacco and marijuana can expose your unborn baby to a variety of health risks.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity increases the chances for a high-risk pregnancy and makes most high-risk conditions worse.
- Eat a healthy diet: Eat foods high in iron, calcium and folic acid and be sure to take a prenatal vitamin. Above all, stay hydrated.
- Stay active: Check with your provider first to see what you can and cannot do to remain active throughout pregnancy.
- Contact your provider: If you experience symptoms such as vaginal bleeding, severe headaches, changes in vision and pain or cramping, don’t hesitate to call your provider right away.
A high-risk pregnancy might have some ups and downs, but it doesn’t guarantee there will be complications. Early, regular and good prenatal checkups make it possible for women to go on to have safe deliveries and healthy, happy babies.
If you’re planning on getting pregnant or it’s early on in your pregnancy, check out these other pregnancy blog posts to help guide you: