High-Risk Pregnancy

Fact checked Medically reviewed

Medically reviewed by Brenda G., MD | Written by SheCares Editorial Team | Updated: Dec 26, 2021

Hearing one's pregnancy labeled as high risk can be quite frightening, to say the least.

A high-risk pregnancy does not mean that problems will certainly occur, but it does mean that a woman requires more cautious monitoring. Because being in a high-risk pregnancy can understandably be reason for stress and anxiety, which can trigger further complications, it is important for expectant mothers to gain a good understanding of what a high-risk pregnancy actually is and what does it mean for them and their babies. 

Continue reading to learn more about a high-risk pregnancy, including what the term means, what is considered a high-risk pregnancy, how to prevent it, and what some of the ways to manage it are.

High-risk pregnancy

What is a High-Risk Pregnancy?

What is a high-risk pregnancy

The term “high-risk pregnancy” means that there is a higher risk of complications, potentially putting the life or health of the mother or her baby in danger.

As such, a high-risk pregnancy necessitates additional monitoring and specialized prenatal care to minimize and prevent further pregnancy complications and improve outcomes. It usually involves a collaboration of a team of multiple medical specialists, including a high-risk pregnancy doctor.

High-Risk Pregnancy Doctor

Many women in high-risk pregnancies can still receive adequate care from their regular obstetrician-gynecologists (OBGYN). Others, however, might be referred to a perinatologist, a maternal-fetal medical specialist with proper training in high-risk pregnancies.

What Makes Pregnancy High-Risk?

What makes pregnancy high-risk?

There are two scenarios when a woman's pregnancy can be deemed of high risk: if she has pre-existing conditions that put her at risk of complications or when complications occur suddenly in an otherwise healthy pregnancy. 

Women with certain risk factors and conditions before getting pregnant might begin their pregnancies already knowing that they are at high risk for complications. These conditions include, but are not limited to, the following:1,2

Other women might begin their pregnancies healthily and become high risk at some point during pregnancy as certain complications appear. They include the following:

Prevention of High Risk Pregnancy

Prevention of high-risk pregnancy

While it is not always possible to prevent complications that make a pregnancy high-risk, there are a number of ways before and during pregnancy to ensure maternal and fetal safety and well-being.

Prevention Before Pregnancy

For women with known pre-pregnancy conditions, taking the time to treat or manage them before conceiving is the best way to significantly reduce the risk of complications.

This can begin by scheduling a thorough preconception check-up with one's doctor to discuss conception plans, undergoing necessary testing, reviewing vaccinations and current medications, and creating a comprehensive pregnancy plan to go through it in the safest way.

During Pregnancy

Although complications can still arise in healthy women at any pregnancy stage, implementing wholesome practices can help women decrease their risk or severity. Some of the best ways to stay healthy during pregnancy can include the following:

Management of High-Risk Pregnancy

Management of high-risk pregnancy

A high-risk pregnancy requires more thorough prenatal care, including medical or surgical interventions; however, the exact regimen will hugely depend on specific circumstances and nature of complications.

Nevertheless, management of a high-risk pregnancy might include the aforementioned practices, like a healthy diet and stress reduction, as well as the following:

  • More frequent prenatal visits and specialist consultations are a must in high-risk pregnancies in order to closely monitor maternal health and fetal development.

  • Additional or specialized prenatal testing might include laboratory work and diagnostic tests, like amniocentesis, biophysical profile, and others.

  • Bed rest or hospitalization might be necessary to help a woman safely carry her baby to term.

  • Medications or surgery can be used to treat the underlying problem and stop its progression.

  • A premature delivery might sometimes be the safest way to manage a high-risk pregnancy and prevent further life-threatening complications.

Key Takeaways

For all mothers-to-be, being in a high-risk pregnancy is a significant cause of emotional distress. It is estimated that up to 8% of all pregnancies are deemed high risk, which means that they have an increased risk of complications that can endanger the health of a mother and her baby.3 As such, it requires a multidisciplinary approach and additional prenatal care. Oftentimes, women with pre-existing health conditions or risk factors already know that their pregnancy will be high risk, while others might be considered as such sometime during pregnancy when sudden complications arise. For all women planning to get pregnant, undergoing a preconception check-up is the best way to lower the risk of complications. For expectant mothers, keeping up with regular visits, prenatal vitamins, a healthy diet, and other pregnancy precautions can ensure their own and their little one's well-being.