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High Risk Pregnancy: What to Expect

by Katlyn Joy | July 1, 2014 8:01 AM
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You may get pregnant knowing your pregnancy will be considered high-risk, but for many moms the news will come as a shock. What does it mean? How will my pregnancy care be handled? What will be different for me than for other mothers?

Why a Pregnancy May Be Considered High-Risk

A number of chronic health conditions require extra monitoring during pregnancy, sometimes becomes the demands of a growing fetus can complicate or worsen the condition. In other cases, pregnancy can be negatively affected by the mother's preexisting health issues.

Some of the more common health conditions that will cause a pregnancy to be deemed high-risk include:

Hypertension. Having high blood pressure that is well-controlled will probably not have an adverse effect on a pregnancy, however, if hypertension is not controlled it can be a serious health risk for both mother and child. High blood pressure can lead to preeclampsia, kidney damage in mother, or low birth weight babies.

Diabetes. While many mothers develop high blood sugar during pregnancy, women who already have the condition need to be monitored more closely during pregnancy. If a woman has uncontrolled diabetes it can lead to birth defects in the earliest weeks. Ideally, a woman will have her diabetes well in hand before trying to conceive.

Thyroid conditions. Since women with either over or under-active thyroids can have children with heart problems, failure to thrive and birth defects, the pregnancy must be monitored closely.

Autoimmune disease. While these conditions are quite varied, most women with such illnesses must receive specialized care while pregnant as pregnancy can worsen symptoms or the course of the disease, while others may actually improve. Sometimes the illnesses can affect the fetus as well.

Kidney or heart conditions. The demands of pregnancy can make a serious health condition critical, so watchful medical care is demanded to ensure both mother and baby's safety.

Other situations that may require additional monitoring include being younger than 17, older than 35, or carrying multiples. If a woman develops gestational diabetes, or preeclampsia, hers will also be considered a high risk pregnancy.

If you have a complicated birth or pregnancy history, such as repeated miscarriages, a stillbirth, or developing conditions while pregnant, you will be automatically considered high risk for subsequent pregnancies.

What High Risk Means

While it sounds scary, the difference in treatment is not usually that noticeable. You will see a doctor more often, usually in the latter months. You may get more testing done, including more sonograms.

One of the bigger differences in high risk pregnancies, is where you will have the baby. You will need to give birth at a facility capable of handling more complicated births. You will want to deliver at a hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit, since babies of high risk pregnancies often end up here, at least initially as a precaution.

This may impact what doctor you can see during your pregnancy, since your doctor will need privileges at such a facility, and needs to be capable of handling such risky pregnancies.

High risk pregnancies may involve multiple doctors, and these doctors will need to communicate together as a team on things such as the treatment, testing and medications you receive. For instance, a mother with cardiac disease will likely see both an ob-gyn and a cardiologist during pregnancy, and those doctors need to be on the same page about the care you receive.

You might be given different directions for what to do when labor begins. With uncomplicated pregnancies you may be told to go to the hospital when contractions are five minutes apart and regular, but with a high risk pregnancy, you may need to call your doctor as soon as the first contractions appear.

Women who are considered high risk have a greater chance of delivering by cesarean section, so you will likely be more prepared for this possible outcome than other mothers. Delivery may also be scheduled ahead of time. Being prepared for any eventuality in labor will help you be calmer, too.

Having a high risk pregnancy isn't a dire label, but rather a level of care you can expect while pregnant with a more involved plan for birth.


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