A pregnancy is said to be high risk when its existence threatens the health and life of a mother, baby or both. Often times the risks are as a result of pre-existing health conditions although some arise during pregnancy.
Pre-existing health risks Diabetes: Diabetes increases the chance of having a large baby, which may present difficulty during childbirth.
It also increases the risk of miscarriage, after birth difficulties for the baby such as breathing, congenital abnormalities, and pre-disposition to diabetes or obesity later on in life.
By controlling blood sugar levels and taking foods rich in folic acid such as lentils, citrus fruits and dark leafy vegetables every day, one can help reduce this risk.
Chronic hypertension: High blood pressure can put too much pressure on a mother’s kidneys and other organs. It can also cause low birth weight and early delivery. In serious cases, the mother develops pre-eclampsia, a potentially life- threatening condition which could be fatal.
Age: Women under the age of 17 or over 35 are at a greater risk of complications such as miscarriage, genetic disorders or birth defects.
This is because pregnant teens are more likely to develop high blood pressure and anaemia and go into labour earlier than women who are older, whereas women over 35 are likely to have an infant with a genetic disorder such as Down syndrome.
Medical history: If the mother has diabetes, lupus, renal disease or high blood pressure, not only do the conditions pose a risk, but the accompanying medication. A history of miscarriage also puts the mother and baby at risk.
Obesity: Obesity can make a pregnancy more difficult. If the mother also struggles with obesity, she and the baby are at risk as there is a likelihood of developing conditions such as hypertension or gestational diabetes.
It is therefore necessary to maintain healthy weight prior to pregnancy by eating a balanced diet and adopting an active lifestyle.
Drugs: Addiction to drugs or alcohol puts a baby at risk as it increases chances of stillbirth, premature birth or withdrawal symptoms after birth. If you smoke, quit before even getting pregnant, and also know that alcohol and illegal drugs are off-limits too.
Problems arising from high-risk pregnancy Even when mothers are fit and healthy when they conceive, certain problems may arise during the pregnancy, which pose a risk to both the mother and the baby.
Pre-eclampsia: This is where a mother has a combination of high blood pressure, urinary protein and swelling (fluid-retention) and can be fatal if not well treated. With proper management however, the mother can still deliver a healthy baby.
Gestational diabetes: This is a form of diabetes that specifically develops during pregnancy. It poses a risk for the mother as it increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes where your body can’t produce enough insulin to control your blood sugar levels.
Multiple births: Having multiples such as twins or quadruplets is also considered a risk as it strains the mother’s body to provide for the multiple individuals. It also increases the risk of infants being born prematurely, that is, before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
High-risk pregnancies call for management by a specialist to ensure the best outcome for mother and baby. This usually involves extra monitoring or treatment to make sure the pregnancy goes smoothly.
To reduce risk of pregnancy complications, it is important to consult a medical specialist as early as possible to assess the risk and get necessary information.
Inform your healthcare provider during the initial prenatal visit of any current health problems or difficulties in previous pregnancies.
Of equal importance is the need to attend all your prenatal appointments and follow your healthcare provider’s advice including adopting a healthy lifestyle and staying active.