What Is High Risk Pregnancy? What Causes it?

You thought your pregnancy was going just fine. Then, one day, your OB/GYN told you some concerning news: you are facing a high-risk pregnancy. What does this mean for you? What does it mean for your precious baby-to-be? Here are some answers about high-risk pregnancies and perinatal care to help you understand what is going on and how to get through this nerve-wracking time.

What is High-Risk Pregnancy?

A high-risk pregnancy is defined as one that threatens the life or health of an unborn baby or its mother. A pregnancy that is high risk could lead to such medical situations as pre-term birth, complications during labor, or pregnancy-related emergencies. A pregnancy will usually be determined to be high risk during an obstetric evaluation of the mother’s or baby’s current or expected health status, and may then require further assessments to determine whether or not certain treatments are required or if the mother-to-be needs to consult with specific specialists. A high-risk pregnancy typically warrants a consultation with a perinatologist.

What Causes a Pregnancy to be High Risk?

A high-risk pregnancy may be caused by a number of different factors that can affect a woman’s or fetus’s health. Some high-risk pregnancies are caused by existing health conditions that the mother has, such as diabetes, lupus, or high blood pressure. Lifestyle choices such as smoking, advanced age of the mother (35 years or older), or being overweight or obese can also determine how safe a pregnancy is. Fetal abnormalities, multiple gestations, or gestational diabetes could also cause a high-risk pregnancy. There are more causes than what is listed here, and most risk factors are evaluated by an obstetric medical professional once you become pregnant and complete certain diagnostic tests.

What Should You Do Next?

If your OB/GYN has determined that you are facing a high-risk pregnancy, he or she will likely refer you to a maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) specialist. An MFM specialist is an obstetric healthcare provider who has completed several years of training to handle high-risk pregnancy matters. Perinatologists consult with, treat, and transfer care for women with complex medical conditions before, during, and after their pregnancies. They provide education to patients and peers regarding perinatology and are willing to work with a team of obstetric care providers to find the best methods for handling complicated perinatal situations. The team at Valley Perinatal Services is one example of a dedicated group of medical professionals that is able to work with expectant mothers’ OB/GYNs, NPs, and family physicians, to name a few healthcare providers.

Be prepared for certain procedures when seeing an MFM specialist, as there are different diagnostic evaluations that may need to be completed depending on your medical needs. For example, if your baby seems to have a concerning heart condition, a fetal echocardiogram may be ordered. If genetic testing is needed, you may need to undergo a genetic amniocentesis for your unborn child. You may also need to prepare to make some lifestyle changes, as women with gestational diabetes or other health concerns may require nutritional counseling in some situations.

A high-risk pregnancy can be daunting and even perplexing, and you may be wondering just how you are going to handle the whole situation. A typical pregnancy can cause enough lifestyle-related, physical and emotional disruptions — how can you know how to approach a pregnancy that carries medical risks? Getting all of the knowledge that you can about your situation and seeking a perinatal team that has your best needs in mind will help you find the best possible outcomes for you and baby from now until after your delivery.

Have you just learned that you are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy? The perinatologists at Valley Perinatal Services may be able to co-manage your care with your obstetric team. You or your physician can reach us via our online form or by phone at (480) 756-6000.