Most pregnancies occur without complications. However, some women who are pregnant will experience complications 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. Some complications occur during delivery.
Even with complications, early detection and prenatal care can reduce any further risk to you and your baby.
Some of the most common complications of pregnancy include:
- high blood pressure
- gestational diabetes
- preterm labor
- a loss of pregnancy, or miscarriage
If you already have a chronic condition or illness, talk to your doctor about how to minimize 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 diseases, 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
The normal symptoms of pregnancy and the symptoms of complications are sometimes hard to distinguish. Although many problems are mild and don’t progress, you should always contact your doctor if you have any concerns during your pregnancy. Most pregnancy complications are manageable with prompt treatment.
These are the most common complications women experience during pregnancy:
High blood pressure
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 baby who’s small. It’s important to control your blood pressure with medications during pregnancy.
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.
Preeclampsia is also called toxemia. It occurs after the first 20 weeks of a 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 timing of delivery. Your doctor may induce labor if you’re 37 to 40 weeks pregnant.
If it’s too early to deliver your baby, your doctor will need to monitor you and your baby closely. They may prescribe medications to help lower your blood pressure and help the baby mature if you are not full term. You may be hospitalized for monitoring and care.
Preterm labor occurs when you go into labor before week 37 of your pregnancy. This is before your baby’s organs, such as the lungs and the brain, have finished developing. Certain medications can stop labor. Doctors usually recommend bed rest to keep the baby from being born too early.
A miscarriage is the loss of pregnancy during the first 20 weeks. According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), up to 20 percent 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 include:
- problems with the placenta
- chronic health issues in the mother
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.
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
- Zika virus
You can prevent some infections by washing your hands often. You can prevent others, such as hepatitis B virus and influenza, by vaccination.
Complications can also occur during labor and delivery. If there’s a problem during labor, your doctor may need to change the way they proceed with the delivery.
A baby is considered in a breech position when their feet are positioned to be delivered before their head. According to the APA, this occurs in about 4 percent of full-term births.
Most babies born in this position are healthy. You 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 position of the baby. If the baby is still in the breech position when labor starts, most doctors recommend a cesarean delivery.
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
Low birth weight usually occurs due to poor nutrition or the use of cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs during pregnancy. Babies who are born at a low birth weight have a higher risk of:
- respiratory infections
- learning disabilities
- heart infections
The baby may need to stay in the hospital for a few months after birth.
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
- a pain in the abdomen
- a fever
- severe headaches
- persistent vomiting
- blurred vision
You should also call your doctor if you think your baby is suddenly moving less often than usual during the third trimester.
Not all complications are preventable. 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 fiber.
- 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.