From the moment you see that double line on your pregnancy test, your child’s well-being is top of mind. So it’s completely normal for expecting parents to feel shocked, stressed and scared if they’re told that their pregnancy is high risk.
But before you panic, know that the term “high risk” in no way means you won’t give birth to a healthy baby.
“There’s often a focus on everything that can go wrong, but the truth is most of the time, things go well,” says Jacob Larkin, MD, medical director of inpatient obstetric services at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. “Many of the issues we see during pregnancy can be treated and managed to have a healthy mom and a healthy baby.” If your pregnancy is high risk—or if you’re just wondering what makes a pregnancy high risk—this guide will help answer your most pressing questions.
What Is a High-Risk Pregnancy?
Put simply, a pregnancy is high risk if there’s an above average chance of complications, either for mom or baby, due to conditions that affect health during pregnancy, delivery or even after the child is born. Very few of these conditions are actually life-threatening. In fact, doctors may label a pregnancy as high risk for relatively minor issues, and there’s a blurred line between what defines a low-risk pregnancy and a high-risk one. “There isn’t some point where a patient magically transitions from a normal to a high-risk pregnancy,” Larkin says.
It’s also possible for risk to fluctuate throughout pregnancy, says Ozhan Turan, MD, director of fetal therapy and complicated obstetrical surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center. For example, women over 35 are automatically placed in the high-risk category because they have a higher chance of giving birth to a child with a genetic disorder, like Down syndrome. But if fetal testing results (such as from an amniocentesis) show that the baby has no abnormalities, that mother’s status would be adjusted to normal risk.
What Makes a Pregnancy High Risk?
Factors that can bump up the chance of complications during pregnancy include:
- Being older than 35. At this age, mothers have a higher chance of delivery complications. The risk of giving birth to baby with a genetic disorder also increases after age 35.
- Smoking, drinking alcohol or using drugs. This can lead to birth defects and other health issues for the baby.
- Being overweight or obese. On the flip side, women who are underweight may also have a riskier pregnancy.
- Having high blood pressure. Uncontrolled hypertension during pregnancy increases the chance of preeclampsia and low birth weight.
- Being diabetic. High blood sugar levels can lead to birth defects early on in the pregnancy.
- Carrying multiples. Being pregnant with twins, triplets or more can up the…