Complications of pregnancy are health problems that occur during pregnancy. They can involve the mother’s health, the baby’s health, or both. Some women have health problems that arise during pregnancy, and other women have health problems before they become pregnant that could lead to complications. It is very important for women to receive health care before and during pregnancy to decrease the risk of pregnancy complications.
Make sure to talk to your doctor about health problems you have now or have had in the past. If you are receiving treatment for a health problem, your health care provider might want to change the way your health problem is managed. For example, some medicines used to treat health problems could be harmful if taken during pregnancy. At the same time, stopping medicines that you need could be more harmful than the risks posed should you become pregnant. In addition, be sure to discuss any problems you had in any previous pregnancy. If health problems are under control and you get good prenatal care, you are likely to have a normal, healthy baby.
Miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy in the first 20 weeks. About 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and more than 80 percent of miscarriages happen before 12 weeks. Most first-trimester miscarriages are believed to be caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the fertilized egg that keep the embryo from developing.
Vaginal spotting or bleeding is usually the first sign, so call your healthcare practitioner right away if you notice it (although it’s not uncommon to spot or bleed in early pregnancy even if you’re not miscarrying). If your practitioner suspects a miscarriage, she’ll order an ultrasound to see what’s going on in your uterus and possibly do a blood test.
Premature labor and birth
If you start having regular contractions that cause your cervix to begin to open (dilate) or thin out (efface) before you reach 37 weeks of pregnancy, you’re in preterm or premature labor. When a baby is delivered before 37 weeks, it’s called a preterm birth and the baby is considered premature. About 12 percent of babies in the United States are born prematurely.
Preterm birth can cause health problems or even be fatal for the baby if it happens too early. The more mature a child is at birth, the more likely he is to survive and be healthy.
Pregnancy symptoms and complications can range from mild and annoying discomforts to severe, sometimes life-threatening, illnesses. Sometimes it can be difficult for a woman to determine which symptoms are normal and which are not. Problems during pregnancy may include physical and mental conditions that affect the health of the mother or the baby. These problems can be caused by or can be made worse by being pregnant. Many problems are mild and do not progress; however, when they do, they may harm the mother or her baby. Keep in mind that there are ways to manage problems that come up during pregnancy. Always contact your prenatal care provider if you have any concerns during your pregnancy.
The following are some common maternal health conditions or problems a woman may experience during pregnancy
Anemia is having lower than the normal number of healthy red blood cells. Treating the underlying cause of the anemia will help restore the number of healthy red blood cells. Women with pregnancy related anemia may feel tired and weak. This can be helped by taking iron and folic acid supplements. Your health care provider will check your iron levels throughout pregnancy.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
A UTI is a bacterial infection in the urinary tract. You may have a UTI if you have—
- Pain or burning when you use the bathroom.
- Fever, tiredness, or shakiness.
- An urge to use the bathroom often.
- Pressure in your lower belly.
- Urine that smells bad or looks cloudy or reddish.
- Nausea or back pain.
If you think you have a UTI, it is important to see your health care provider. He/she can tell if you have a UTI by testing a sample of your urine. Treatment with antibiotics to kill the infection will make it better, often in one or two days. Some women carry bacteria in their bladder without having symptoms. Your health care provider will likely test your urine in early pregnancy to see if this is the case and treat you with antibiotics if necessary.
Mental Health Conditions
Some women experience depression during or after pregnancy. Symptoms of depression are:
- A low or sad mood.
- Loss of interest in fun activities.
- Changes in appetite, sleep, and energy.
- Problems thinking, concentrating, and making decisions.
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, or guilt.
- Thoughts that life is not worth living.
When many of these symptoms occur together and last for more than a week or two at a time, this is probably depression. Depression that persists during pregnancy can make it hard for a woman to care for herself and her unborn baby. Having depression before pregnancy also is a risk factor for postpartum depression. Getting treatment is important for both mother and baby. If you have a history of depression, it is important to discuss this with your health care provider early in pregnancy so that a plan for management can be made.
Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
Chronic poorly-controlled high blood pressure before and during pregnancy puts a pregnant woman and her baby at risk for problems. It is associated with an increased risk for maternal complications such as preeclampsia, placental abruption (when the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus), and gestational diabetes. These women also face a higher risk for poor birth outcomes such as preterm delivery, having an infant small for his/her gestational age, and infant death. The most important thing to do is to discuss blood pressure problems with your provider before you become pregnant so that appropriate treatment and control of your blood pressure occurs before pregnancy. Getting treatment for high blood pressure is important before, during, and after pregnancy.
Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM)
GDM is diagnosed during pregnancy and can lead to pregnancy complications. GDM is when the body cannot effectively process sugars and starches (carbohydrates), leading to high sugar levels in the blood stream. Most women with GDM can control their blood sugar levels by a following a healthy meal plan from their health care provider and getting regular physical activity. Some women also need insulin to keep blood sugar levels under control. Doing so is important because poorly controlled diabetes increases the risk
- Early delivery.
- Cesarean birth.
- Having a big baby, which can complicate delivery.
- Having a baby born with low blood sugar, breathing problems, and jaundice.
Although GDM usually resolves after pregnancy, women who had GDM have a higher risk of developing diabetes in the future. Learn more about postpartum diabetes testing.
Obesity and Weight Gain
Recent studies suggest that the heavier a woman is before she becomes pregnant, the greater her risk of pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia, GDM, stillbirth and cesarean delivery. Also, CDC research has shown that obesity during pregnancy is associated with increased use of health care and physician services, and longer hospital stays for delivery. Overweight and obese women who lose weight before pregnancy are likely to have healthier pregnancies. Learn more about ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight before you get pregnant.
During pregnancy, your baby is protected from many illnesses, like the common cold or a passing stomach bug. But some infections can be harmful to you, your baby, or both. Easy steps, such as hand washing, and avoiding certain foods, can help protect you from some infections. You won’t always know if you have an infection—sometimes you won’t even feel sick. If you think you might have an infection or think you are at risk, see your health care provider. Read more about specific infections that can be harmful during pregnancy, and learn the symptoms and what you can do to keep healthy.
Many women have some nausea or vomiting, or “morning sickness,” particularly during the first 3 months of pregnancy. The cause of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy is believed to be rapidly rising blood levels of a hormone called HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which is released by the placenta. However, hyperemesis gravidarum occurs when there is severe, persistent nausea and vomiting during pregnancy—more extreme than “morning sickness.” This can lead to weight loss and dehydration and may require intensive treatment.