Pregnancy is a miraculous time in any woman’s life. But, for some mothers-to-be, it can be fraught with complications. You may not know what to expect and how you should prepare before pregnancy.
This blog post will cover the most common pregnancy complications and give you tips on how to handle them and more information about each one so that you’ll feel informed about your pregnancy journey!
What Are Some Common Complications Of Pregnancy?
Some women experience health problems during pregnancy. These complications can involve the mother’s health, the fetus’s health, or both.
Even women who were healthy before getting pregnant can experience complications. These complications may make the pregnancy a high-risk pregnancy.
Getting early and regular prenatal care can help decrease the risk for problems by enabling health care providers to diagnose, treat, or manage conditions before they become serious.
Prenatal care can also help identify mental health concerns related to pregnancy, such as anxiety and depression.
Most pregnancies occur without complications. However, some pregnant women will experience difficulties that can involve their health, their baby’s health, or both.
Sometimes, diseases or conditions the mother had before she became pregnant can lead to complications during pregnancy. In addition, some difficulties occur during delivery.
Even with complications, early detection and prenatal care can reduce additional risks to you and your baby.
Some of the most common complications of pregnancy include:
- high blood pressure
- gestational diabetes
- preterm labour
- a loss of pregnancy or miscarriage
Complications of pregnancy are health problems that occur during pregnancy. They can involve the mother’s health, the baby’s health, or both.
Some women have health problems that arise during pregnancy, and other women have health problems before they become pregnant that could lead to complications.
Women need to receive health care before and during pregnancy to decrease the risk of pregnancy complications.
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Make sure to talk to your doctor about health problems you have now or have had in the past.
If you are receiving treatment for a health problem, your health care provider might want to change how your health problem is managed.
For example, some medicines used to treat health problems could be harmful if taken during pregnancy.
At the same time, stopping medicines that you need could be more harmful than the risks posed should you become pregnant.
In addition, be sure to discuss any problems you had in any previous pregnancy.
If health problems are under control and you get good prenatal care, you will likely have a normal, healthy baby.
Pregnancy symptoms and complications can range from mild and annoying discomforts to severe, sometimes life-threatening, illnesses.
Sometimes it can be difficult for a woman to determine which symptoms are normal and which are not.
Problems during pregnancy may include physical and mental conditions that affect the health of the mother or the baby.
These problems can be caused by or can be made worse by being pregnant. Many problems are mild and do not progress; however, they may harm the mother or her baby when they do.
Keep in mind that there are ways to manage problems that come up during pregnancy. Always contact your prenatal care provider if you have any concerns during your pregnancy.
The following are some common maternal health conditions or problems a woman may experience during pregnancy—
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, occurs when arteries carrying blood from the heart to the body organs are narrowed.
This causes pressure to increase in the arteries. This can make it hard for blood to reach the placenta, which provides nutrients and oxygen to the fetus in pregnancy.
Reduced blood flow can slow the growth of the fetus and place the mother at greater risk of preterm labour and preeclampsia.
Women who have high blood pressure before they get pregnant will continue to monitor and control it, with medications if necessary, throughout their pregnancy.
High blood pressure that develops in pregnancy is called gestational hypertension.
Typically, gestational hypertension occurs during the second half of pregnancy and goes away after delivery.
High blood pressure occurs when the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the organs and the placenta are narrowed.
High blood pressure is associated with a higher risk of many other complications, like preeclampsia.
It puts you at a higher risk of having a baby well before your due date. This is called preterm delivery.
It also increases your risk of having a small baby. It’s important to control your blood pressure with medications during pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman who didn’t have diabetes before pregnancy develops the condition during pregnancy.
Normally, the body digests parts of your food into a sugar called glucose.
Glucose is your body’s main source of energy. After digestion, the glucose moves into your blood to give your body energy.
To get the glucose out of your blood and into the cells of your body, your pancreas makes a hormone called insulin.
In gestational diabetes, hormonal changes from pregnancy cause the body to either not make enough insulin or not use it normally.
Instead, the glucose builds up in your blood, causing diabetes, otherwise known as high blood sugar.
Gestational diabetes occurs when your body cannot process sugars effectively. This leads to higher-than-normal levels of sugar in the bloodstream.
Some women will need to modify their meal plans to help control blood sugar levels.
Others may need to take insulin to keep their blood sugar levels in control. Gestational diabetes usually resolves after pregnancy.
Managing gestational diabetes by following a treatment plan outlined by a healthcare provider is the best way to reduce or prevent problems associated with high blood sugar during pregnancy.
If not controlled, it can lead to high blood pressure from preeclampsia and having a large infant, increasing the risk of cesarean delivery.
Preeclampsia is a serious medical condition that can lead to preterm delivery and death. Its cause is unknown, but some women are at an increased risk. Risk factors include:
- First pregnancies
- Preeclampsia is a previous pregnancy
- Existing conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, and systemic lupus erythematosus
- Being 35 years of age or older
- Carrying two or more fetuses
Preeclampsia is also called toxemia. It occurs after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy and causes high blood pressure and possible problems with your kidneys.
The recommended treatment for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby and placenta to prevent the disease from progressing.
Your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits regarding the timing of delivery. For example, your doctor may induce labour if you’re 37 to 40 weeks pregnant.
If it’s too early to deliver your baby, your doctor will need to closely monitor you and your baby.
They may prescribe medications to help lower your blood pressure and help the baby mature if you are not full term. In addition, you may be hospitalized for monitoring and care.
Preterm labour is labour that begins before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Any infant born before 37 weeks is at an increased risk for health problems, in most cases because organs such as the lungs and brain finish their development in the final weeks before a full-term delivery (39 to 40 weeks).
Certain conditions increase the risk for preterm labour, including infections, developing a shortened cervix, or previous preterm births.
Progesterone, a hormone produced naturally during pregnancy, may help prevent preterm birth in certain women.
A 2003 study led by NICHD researchers found that progesterone supplementation to women at high risk for preterm delivery due to a prior preterm birth reduces the risk of a subsequent preterm birth by one third.
Preterm labour occurs when you go into labour before week 37 of your pregnancy.
This is before your baby’s organs, such as the lungs and the brain, have finished developing. In addition, certain medications can stop labour.
Doctors usually recommend bed rest to keep the baby from being born too early.
A Loss Of Pregnancy, Or Miscarriage
Miscarriage is the term used to describe a pregnancy loss from natural causes before 20 weeks.
Signs can include vaginal spotting or bleeding, cramping, or fluid or tissue passing from the vagina.
However, bleeding from the vagina does not mean that a miscarriage will happen or is happening.
Women experiencing this sign at any point in their pregnancy should contact their health care provider.
A miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy during the first 20 weeks.
According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), up to 20 per cent of pregnancies among healthy women will end in a miscarriage.
Sometimes, this happens before a woman is even aware of the pregnancy. In most cases, miscarriage isn’t preventable.
A loss of pregnancy after week 20 of pregnancy is called a stillbirth. Many times the cause for this isn’t known. Issues that have been found to cause stillbirths to include:
Anemia means that you have a lower-than-normal number of red blood cells in your body.
If you have anemia, you may feel more tired and weak than usual, and you may have pale skin.
Anemia has many causes, and your doctor will need to treat the underlying cause of the anemia.
Taking supplements of iron and folic acid during your pregnancy may help since most cases of anemia occur due to a deficiency.
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A variety of bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections may complicate a pregnancy.
Infections can be harmful to both the mother and the baby, so it’s important to seek treatment right away. Some examples include:
- a urinary tract infection
- bacterial vaginosis
- group B Streptococcus
- hepatitis B virus, which can spread to your baby during birth
- toxoplasmosis, which is an infection caused by a parasite found in cat feces, soil, and raw meat
- a yeast infection
You can prevent some infections by washing your hands often. You can prevent others, such as hepatitis B virus and influenza, by vaccination.
Mental Health Conditions
Some women experience depression during or after pregnancy. Symptoms of depression are:
- A low or sad mood.
- Loss of interest in fun activities.
- Changes in appetite, sleep, and energy.
- Problems thinking, concentrating, and making decisions.
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, or guilt.
- Thoughts that life is not worth living.
When many of these symptoms occur together and last for more than a week or two at a time, this is probably depression.
Depression that persists during pregnancy can make it hard for a woman to care for herself and her unborn baby.
Having depression before pregnancy also is a risk factor for postpartum depression. Getting treatment is important for both mother and baby.
If you have a history of depression, it is important to discuss this with your health care provider early in pregnancy to make a management plan.
Other complications of pregnancy may include the following:
Severe, persistent nausea and vomiting. Although nausea and vomiting are normal during pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester, some women experience more severe symptoms that last into the third trimester.
The cause of the more severe form of this problem, known as hyperemesis gravidarum (pronounced HEYE-pur-EM-uh-suhss grav-uh-DAR-uhm), is not known.
Women with hyperemesis gravidarum experience nausea that does not go away, weight loss, reduced appetite, dehydration, and feeling faint.
Affected women may need to be hospitalized so that they can receive fluids and nutrients.
Some women feel better after their 20th week of pregnancy, while others experience the symptoms throughout their pregnancy.
Iron-deficiency anemia. Pregnant women need more iron than normal for the increased amount of blood they produce during pregnancy.
Iron-deficiency anemia—when the body doesn’t have enough iron—is somewhat common during pregnancy and is associated with preterm birth and low birth weight.
Symptoms of an iron deficiency include feeling tired or faint, experiencing shortness of breath, and becoming pale.
ACOG recommends 27 milligrams of iron daily (found in most prenatal vitamins) to reduce the risk for iron deficiency anemia.
Some women may need extra iron through iron supplements.12 Your health care provider may screen you for iron deficiency anemia and, if you have it, may recommend iron supplements.
Who Is At Risk For Complications?
If you already have a chronic condition or illness, talk to your doctor about minimising any complications before you get pregnant.
If you’re already pregnant, your doctor may need to monitor your pregnancy.
Some examples of common diseases and conditions that can cause complications during your pregnancy include:
- high blood pressure
- sexually transmitted infections, including HIV
- kidney problems
Other factors that may increase your risk for complications include:
- being pregnant at age 35 or older
- being pregnant at a young age
- having an eating disorder like anorexia
- smoking cigarettes
- using illegal drugs
- drinking alcohol
- having a history of pregnancy loss or preterm birth
- carrying multiples, such as twins or triplets
Complications can also occur during labour and delivery. If there’s a problem during work, your doctor may need to change how they proceed with the delivery.
A baby is considered breech when their feet are positioned to be delivered before their head. According to the APA, this occurs in about 4 per cent of full-term births.
Most babies born in this position are healthy. However, your doctor will recommend against a vaginal birth if your baby shows signs of distress or is too big to pass safely through the birth canal.
If your doctor finds out that your baby is in the breech position a few weeks before delivery, they might try to change the baby’s position.
Most doctors recommend a cesarean delivery if the baby is still in the breech position when labour starts.
Placenta previa means that the placenta is covering the cervix. Doctors will usually perform a cesarean delivery if this is the case.
Low Birth Weight
- respiratory infections
- learning disabilities
- heart infections
The baby may need to stay in the hospital for a few months after birth.
When To Call Your Doctor
If you’re pregnant, don’t hesitate to call your doctor if there are any signs of a problem. Call your doctor right away if you experience any of the following:
- bleeding from the vagina
- sudden swelling of the hands or face
- pain in the abdomen
- a fever
- severe headaches
- persistent vomiting
- blurred vision
You should also call your doctor if you think your baby suddenly moves less often than usual during the third trimester.
How Can You Prevent Complications?
Not all complications are preventable. However, the following steps may help promote a healthy pregnancy and prevent you from having a high-risk pregnancy:
If you’re thinking of becoming pregnant, consult with a doctor beforehand to help you prepare. For example, if you already have a pre-existing medical condition, your doctor may recommend adjusting your treatment to prepare for your pregnancy.
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and fibre.
- Take prenatal vitamins daily.
- In general, the Mayo Clinic recommends a total of 25 to 35 pounds of weight gain for women who were at a healthy weight before pregnancy.
- Attend all routine prenatal visits, including those with a specialist if one is recommended.
- Quit smoking if you smoke.
- Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs.
- Ask your doctor if the medications you’re already taking are okay to continue taking or if you should stop taking them.
- Reduce your stress levels. Listening to music and doing yoga are two ways to reduce your stress levels.
The Bottom Line
While these conditions may differ from one another, you may have noticed one common thread: Regular prenatal (even preconception) care is crucial.
Women are encouraged to come in for a preconception consultation to talk about what they can do to reduce their risks. Being healthy before pregnancy is the best thing you can do for your baby.
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