Get the facts: What is a high-risk pregnancy?
If you've been told you have a high-risk pregnancy, it's entirely normal to have many questions and concerns. After all, the words "high risk" can feel alarming.
But don't let the worries overwhelm you. At the most basic level, having a pregnancy defined as high risk simply means extra care will be needed for you and your baby.
You can lean on the team of OB/GYN specialists at Reid Health for expertise and healthcare during and after your pregnancy.
What defines a high-risk pregnancy?
In the United States, between 6% and 8% of pregnancies are identified as high risk. But what puts some women at a higher risk of pregnancy complications than others? Medical providers use specific criteria to determine how risky a pregnancy is for both the mother and the baby.
These risk factors for a high-risk pregnancy may include, but are not limited to:
- Being age 17 or younger
- Being older than 35 (which you might hear referenced as advanced maternal age)
- Being overweight or obese, eating a nutritionally deficient diet, or living a sedentary lifestyle
- Being pregnant with multiple babies
- Having infections such as HIV, Hepatitis C or Rubella
- Having preexisting health conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes
- Having pregnancy-related health conditions such as gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension or preeclampsia
- Practicing unhealthy lifestyle habits, including drinking alcohol, tobacco use, or exposure to illicit substances during pregnancy
- Problems with a past pregnancy such as preterm delivery or preeclampsia
- Three or more previous miscarriages
While the factors listed above relate mainly to the health of the mother, a pregnancy may also be identified as high risk if a birth defect is detected in the infant.
Steps you can take for a safer pregnancy
While many of the risk factors for high-risk pregnancy are beyond a woman's control, some factors are not. There are steps you can take to promote a healthy pregnancy for yourself and for your baby.
Perhaps the most important step you can take is to receive regular prenatal care once you know you're pregnant. Prenatal care visits allow a medical provider or a team of providers to check on your overall health and the health of your baby.
As your pregnancy advances, these visits become more frequent and are used to monitor your health and identify any potential risks during your pregnancy. During prenatal checkups, a medical provider can also provide guidance related to important vaccinations for expectant moms, including the COVID-19 vaccine, the flu vaccine, and the whooping cough vaccine.
Beyond having regular prenatal care checkups, you can also help protect your health by:
- Exercising regularly. Talk with your medical provider about what activities are OK for you to do during pregnancy, but in most cases, it's a good thing for mothers to stay physically active up until they give birth. Regular exercise can keep you at a healthy weight while also limiting your risk of conditions such as gestational diabetes.
- Fueling your body in a healthy way. Fill your plate at meals with fruits and veggies, lean proteins like chicken or turkey, whole grains, and a small amount of healthy fat, like what's found in avocado. Eating a wide variety of healthy foods can help you get the nutrients you need to fuel your body and your baby's.
- Not smoking. If you do smoke, make stopping a priority. Talk with a medical provider about a plan to help you stop, which may include smoking cessation aids or behavioral therapy. It's also a good idea to avoid secondhand smoke as much as possible.
- Managing your overall health. If you have any health conditions, such as high blood pressure, pay special attention during your pregnancy. Continue visiting your healthcare providers, including a primary care provider, as you normally would. Unless your providers tell you otherwise, continue taking all medications to control existing health conditions.
- Taking vitamins as recommended. Even if you don't normally take a multivitamin, your OB/GYN will likely recommend one during pregnancy. These prenatal vitamins contain a special formulation of nutrients designed to promote a healthy pregnancy and help your baby grow and develop.
Treatment and care for high-risk pregnancy
If your pregnancy is categorized as high risk, what should you expect? It depends on your risk factors.
In some cases, you may simply need more frequent prenatal checkups to monitor your health and your baby's.
In other cases, though, you may be referred to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, who is specially trained in caring for high-risk pregnancies. When this occurs, the specialist will work with your OB/GYN to provide you with the care you need.
Treatment for a high-risk pregnancy will also include the management of individual risk factors. If a woman smokes, for example, a smoking cessation program would be part of the care plan. Women who have existing health conditions or who develop pregnancy-related health conditions, like preeclampsia, will receive care for those health issues.
When you need us, we're right by your side. Reid Health offers a full spectrum of obstetric and gynecologic care, including care for high-risk pregnancies.