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Every pregnancy carries its risks. But good prenatal care and support can help minimize those risks. Factors like age and overall health status can increase a woman’s chances of experiencing complications during pregnancy.
Structural problems in a woman's uterus or cervix heighten the risk of difficulties like miscarriage, an abnormally positioned fetus, and difficult labor. These problems also increase the risk of a cesarean delivery.
Age is one of the most common factors that can add risk to a woman's pregnancy.
Women under the age of 20 have a significantly higher risk of serious medical complications related to pregnancy than those over 20. Children born to teenage mothers are more likely to:
Some risk factors connected to young age include the following.
As a woman ages, her chances of conceiving begins to decline. An older woman who becomes pregnant is also less likely to have a problem-free pregnancy. Common issues include the following:
Women who are obese are at a higher risk than normal-weight women of having babies with some birth defects, including spina bifida, heart problems, hydrocephaly, and cleft palate and lip. Obese women are also more likely to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes during the pregnancy. Obese women are also more likely to have high blood pressure. This can lead to a smaller than expected baby as well as increase the risk for pre-eclampsia and toxemia.
Women who weigh less than 100 pounds are more likely to deliver prematurely or give birth to an underweight baby.
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetics may experience complications during pregnancy. Poor control of diabetes can increase the chances of birth defects in the baby, and can cause health concerns for the mother.
Some women who may not have had diabetes before the pregnancy may be diagnosed with diabetic symptoms during pregnancy. This is called gestational diabetes. Any woman diagnosed with gestational diabetes should talk with her doctor about the specific recommendations to control her blood sugar. Dietary changes will be recommended. You will also be advised to monitor your blood sugar levels.
Some women may have to take insulin to control their blood sugar levels. Women who have gestational diabetes are at much higher risk for developing diabetes after their pregnancy is over. Testing for diabetes once the pregnancy is over is recommended.
Every pregnant woman should be screened for STIs during her first prenatal visit. A woman who has an STI is very likely to transmit it to her baby. Depending on the infection, a baby born to a woman with an STI is at a higher risk for:
A woman who has had five or more previous pregnancies is more susceptible to abnormally quick labor and accompanying excessive blood loss during future labors.
Complications arise in multiple birth pregnancies because more than one baby is growing in the womb. Because of the limited amount of space and the additional strain multiple fetuses put on a woman, these babies are more likely to arrive prematurely. Many pregnancy complications, like high blood pressure and diabetes, are more common in multiple pregnancies.
If a woman has had complications in a previous pregnancy, she may be more likely to have the same complication in subsequent pregnancies.
Written by: Tracy Stickler
Medically reviewed on: Dec 17, 2014: Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP
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