Every woman hopes that she will have a complication-free pregnancy, and most women do. However, sometimes complications do arise that can threaten the mother or the baby’s health.
Many complications can be discovered through tests or screens that your doctor will give you at different times during your pregnancy. Others have symptoms that you will want to be sure to watch out for. Your doctor should give you a list of symptoms that require immediate attention (also, see below).
The good news is that, in many cases, complications can be managed without permanent harm to either the mother or the baby.
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Keeping yourself healthy and getting good prenatal care are the best ways to prevent or minimize complications. This is especially important if you are already at risk for complications before you get pregnant.
Risk factors for pregnancy complications
You may be at risk if you:
- have a known genetic abnormality
- are overweight
- have a serious health condition such as sickle cell anemia or hepatitis or an STD
- have high blood pressure
- are over 35
- continue to drink, smoke, or use recreational drugs while pregnant
8 Pregnancy Complications
Various infections caused by parasites in certain foods, soil, cat feces, or even in the bodies of healthy women can be dangerous to the fetus. Some of the more common ones include Group B strep, Listeriosis, and Toxoplasmosis. Most of these can be prevented by taking precautions about cleanliness and what you eat. Others are routinely tested for and treated with antibiotics.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and usually disappears once the baby is born. About 5% of women develop gestational diabetes. Your doctor will give you a glucose test around the 26th week to test for this disease.
Not Enough or Too Much Amniotic Fluid
Either of these issues can cause problems for you and the baby. If you have too much amniotic fluid, your doctor may need to remove some with a long needle to prevent premature labor. If you have too little, the doctor may need to induce labor early to prevent problems for the baby.
If the baby’s blood contains a component called Rh factor and the mother’s blood does not, the baby can develop Rh disease. Problems can occur during a second pregnancy if even a few cells of the baby’s blood have leaked into the mother’s during delivery. The doctor can test for Rh incompatibility with amniocentesis and may opt to deliver the baby early. There is also a drug that can be given after the birth of the first baby to prevent this problem in future pregnancies.
If the placenta develops too low in the uterus, there’s not enough blood for the fetus. In addition, the mother will bleed. The doctor will usually order bed rest. In most cases, especially if it’s caught early, the problem will resolve itself. If the problem is discovered late in pregnancy the baby will need to be delivered by cesarean section.
This condition can develop after the 20th week and causes high blood pressure and possible problems with the mother’s kidneys and other organs. If the baby is close to term, the doctor will probably induce labor. If it’s still too early to deliver, the doctor will closely monitor the mother, prescribe bed rest, medication and possibly hospitalization.
If labor begins before the 37th week, the doctor will try to stop it with medications and bed rest. If the labor cannot be stopped, the baby will be born prematurely.
A pregnancy that goes two weeks or more past the due date is considered to be over term. This can be dangerous because after 40 weeks, the amount of nutrients and oxygen that reach the baby goes down. Also, the bigger baby gets, the less likely a vaginal birth becomes. Some doctors induce at 42 weeks while others monitor closely if both mother and baby seem healthy.
Symptoms of pregnancy complications
Even normal, uncomplicated pregnancies have plenty of uncomfortable symptoms. However, you should contact your health provider if you have any of the following:
- bleeding or leaking fluid from your vagina
- severe headache that does not go away
- pain or cramping in the lower abdomen
- sudden swelling in the hands or face
- severe vomiting and nausea
- blurred vision
- reduced fetal movement after the 28th week.
Remember, most complications can be treated, but early detection is important! If you suspect a problem, call your doctor immediately!