8 Surprising Facts About High-Risk Pregnancy

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Nancy LeBrun on December 15, 2020
  • Cropped image of woman holding pregnant belly standing against crib in sunlit nursery
    Prepare for a High-Risk Pregnancy By Being Informed
    If you are pregnant and categorized as high-risk, it means you have a pre-existing health condition, may develop problems during pregnancy, or the fetus may have difficulties. Only about 6 to 8% of pregnant women who are high-risk develop complications, and understanding your particular situation can help you cope with a stressful time.
  • Hispanic pregnant woman getting ultrasound from older African American female doctor
    1. ‘High-risk’ may not mean what you think.
    High-risk means you have an above average chance of complications during your pregnancy. It does not definitively mean that anything will go wrong. You will be closely monitored while you are pregnant and may have special tests to check the health of the fetus. Some high-risk factors can be managed and others cannot, but it’s important that you follow all your doctor’s orders and keep all your appointments. The healthier you are and the better you take care of yourself, the more likely you are to have a smooth, successful delivery.
  • Teenage Caucasian pregnant girl talking to female doctor in office
    2. It’s not only older mothers who are considered high-risk.
    Women over 35 are automatically considered high-risk, but so are teenagers under 18. Very young mothers are prone to anemia, may develop high blood pressure, and are more likely to go into preterm labor and delivery. Women over 35 also have a greater chance of delivering early and the fetus has a higher chance of having a genetic disorder or low birth weight. Still, many older (and younger) women who are healthy themselves have perfectly healthy babies.
  • Overhead photo of two newborn infant twins snuggled together sleeping
    3. Your age affects your chance of having multiples.
    The older you are, the greater your chance of having twins or some other multiple birth. This may or may not be due to fertility treatments; experts see a rise in multiples among older women who conceive without fertility assistance. Multiples put women into the high-risk category because they increase the chance of preterm birth, stillbirth, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and can also slow the growth of the fetuses. You may also need a cesarean section (C-section) to deliver your babies.
  • Caucasian pregnant woman looking down at scale weighing herself
    4. Weight is a common factor in high-risk pregnancies.
    One of the most common reasons for high-risk pregnancies is avoidable and controllable. Obesity, which means you have a body mass index (BMI) over 30, raises your risk for various complications including having a large baby, which can make delivery more difficult and may require a cesarean section. If you are planning on getting pregnant and need to lose weight, do so before you conceive to give your baby—and you—every chance to stay healthy and deliver safely.
  • Close-up of Hispanic pregnant woman getting blood sugar test from doctor for gestational diabetes
    5. Gestational diabetes may affect the health of both baby and mother.
    Gestational diabetes is diabetes that develops during pregnancy. There are no symptoms, but it can affect both mother and fetus. The baby may come early, have low blood sugar, or need help breathing after birth, among other problems. You are at higher risk for preeclampsia, in which your blood pressure rises and you may have organ damage. Work closely with your doctor to manage your blood sugar and reduce the risk of complications from gestational diabetes, which goes away after delivery, though both you and your baby will be at higher risk of developing diabetes later.
  • Older Caucasian female doctor talking to young couple
    6. A preconception appointment can identify risk factors.
    At a preconception appointment, your doctor will take a thorough history and may do an exam or order tests to assess any risk factors. She or he will ask about lifestyle factors like diet and exercise, and whether you have any existing medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure. If women in your family have had pregnancy complications, it’s important to tell your doctor about them. Talk about any STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) or if you have HIV/AIDS. The more doctors know and the sooner they know it, the more they can help manage your risk.
  • Young Hispanic pregnant woman in doctor's office waiting room
    7. You’ll be at the doctor’s office often if you have a high-risk pregnancy.
    If you have a high-risk pregnancy, you will have more than the usual amount of prenatal doctor visits and tests. Make sure you keep your appointments, because they are important for you and your baby’s safety. Many of the tests are non-invasive, such as taking vital signs and ultrasounds, but your doctor may also recommend tests including amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS), which check for genetic or congenital abnormalities. It is up to you whether you take the tests, so talk with your doctor to understand the risks and benefits.
  • Young mixed race pregnant couple smiling and chopping vegetables in kitchen
    8. You can help manage (or avoid) a high-risk pregnancy.
    Some high-risk factors are unavoidable, but others can be successfully managed. If you are overweight, smoke, drink alcohol often, or lead an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle, try to address those factors before you get pregnant. Talk to your doctor about existing medical conditions and medications you take that may affect the fetus. Ask your doctor about taking folic acid —even before you become pregnant—which can help prevent neural tube defects that affect the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Being a healthy mother is an important step toward having a healthy baby.
8 Surprising Facts About High-Risk Pregnancy

About The Author

Nancy LeBrun is an Emmy- and Peabody award-winning writer and producer who has been writing about health and wellness for more than five years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
  1. High-risk pregnancy: Know what to expect. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/high-risk-pregnancy/art-20047012
  2. High-Risk Pregnancy: What You Need to Know. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy-woman/sexual-reproductive/high-risk-pregnancy-what-you-need-to-know
  3. High-Risk Pregnancy? Reduce Your Risks With Early Action. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/high-risk-pregnancy-reduce-your-risks-with-early-action/
  4. Pregnancy Complications. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/pregnancy-complications.html
  5. What are some common complications of pregnancy? National Institutes of Health. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/pregnancy/conditioninfo/complications
  6. 4 Common Pregnancy Complications. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy-woman/sexual-reproductive/4-common-pregnancy-complications
  7. Complications in a Multiples Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association. http://americanpregnancy.org/multiples/complications/
  8. What is High-Risk Pregnancy? University of Utah Health. https://healthcare.utah.edu/womenshealth/pregnancy-birth/high-risk-pregnancy.php
  9. Getting pregnant. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/getting-pregnant/in-depth/preconception/art-20046664
Was this helpful?
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 15
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.