Every pregnancy can carry its own set of risks, and some women can experience health problems and complications from an early stage. It is essential to get regular prenatal care to ensure you can diagnose, treat, and manage conditions early on, minimizing the chances of a high-risk pregnancy
Complications During Pregnancy
We have identified some of the more common complications that can occur during pregnancy, below:
- Hypertension also referred to as high blood pressure, is when arteries carrying blood from the heart to other organs, become restricted. High blood pressure can limit the amount of blood flow, which provides oxygen and essential nutrients to the fetus. When blood flow is reduced, complications include preeclampsia and preterm labor (these will be covered in more detail below).
Women with Hypertension need to monitor their blood pressure throughout pregnancy and may find it easier to control with medication. High blood pressure developed during pregnancy is known as Gestational Hypertension. It typically occurs during the second trimester and resolves post-labor and should be closely monitored to reduce the risk of preeclampsia. Consult your doctor if you have a family history of Hypertension.
- Gestational Diabetes, also referred to as high blood sugar, develops during pregnancy and refers to the increase of glucose found in the blood. Glucose is an essential source of energy and produced after the break down of carbohydrates in the body. Once glucose enters the bloodstream, it is absorbed by cells, thanks to the regulating hormone Insulin, produced by the pancreas.
However, because of hormonal changes during pregnancy, the body cannot produce enough insulin or use it normally. Following a treatment plan advised by your healthcare provider, you can avoid high blood sugar and the risk of preeclampsia or cesarean delivery (C-section). You are at higher-risk of Gestational Diabetes if there is a family history of Type-2 Diabetes.
- Infections, including Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), can occur during pregnancy or post-delivery and can lead to complications for the mother or baby or even both. The baby can contract an infection during delivery or as a fetus during pregnancy.
Most vaginal and urinary infections can be treated early with the right medication and follow-up care with your healthcare provider. Viruses, which can include Chlamydia, Bacterial Vaginosis, and Gonorrhea, have been linked to miscarriages, preterm labor, stillbirth, congenital disabilities, and other serious pregnancy complications. It is vital to discuss any concerns, before conceiving, to reduce the chances of infection during pregnancy and after. There are certain vaccines you can take as a precaution as well.
- Preeclampsia is a severe condition putting both mother and baby at high risk. It is usually diagnosed late in pregnancy and sometimes post-delivery. Although the exact cause is still not identified, this condition refers to a part of the placenta, which is not functioning correctly. Preeclamptic women can often find swelling in their feet and legs and high levels of protein in their urine. Another sign is Gestational Hypertension.
There is no cure for preeclampsia, but if detected early, it can reduce the risk of eclampsia, which is the onset of seizures before, during, or after labor. Women should learn about symptoms and understand the risk factors to detect preeclampsia early on. Some risk factors include first pregnancies, history of preeclampsia, diabetes, obesity, and age.
- Preterm labor is when a baby is born before 37 weeks. Premature babies are at higher risk of health problems because their vital organs, like the brain and lungs, only fully develop in the final weeks of pregnancy. Infections, a shortened cervix, and a history of preterm births are all conditions that can increase the chances of preterm labor. According to a study conducted by The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), preterm labor can be reduced by up to one third by taking progesterone (pregnancy hormone) supplement.
- Miscarriage is a term used to describe a pregnancy loss before 20 weeks. Although it can be hard to determine why a miscarriage occurs, some causes include diabetes, acute infection, major injury, or a history of miscarriages. Other reasons could be due to a fertilized egg having an abnormal amount of chromosomes or uterus abnormalities. Treatments for a miscarriage vary from medicines or procedures similarly used for abortions.
Miscarriages are dangerous if not addressed immediately, so it is essential to understand the signs and symptoms. These may be in the form of vaginal bleeding, severe abdominal pain, or severe cramping. Suffering a miscarriage can take an emotional toll, so you must have the right support system in place to help you.
- Stillbirth is a pregnancy loss after 20 weeks. It is very rare to find a cause, but health conditions such as infection, poor fetal development, and lifestyle factors can contribute to stillbirth. This pregnancy complication is challenging for anybody and can affect you physically, emotionally, and mentally.
- Other Complications include Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which is persistent vomiting that can continue into the third trimester or Iron-Deficiency Anemia, which refers to a lack of iron in the body required during pregnancy. Signs of anemia can include feeling tired, shortness of breath, or fainting.
Precautions to Avoid Pregnancy Complications
- Practice Good Hygiene: To avoid infection, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water; after eating, after using the restroom and after visiting public places. Infection can lead to stillbirth or miscarriage
- Quit Smoking: Smoking is a harmful habit that can lead to several health problems and complications. During pregnancy, it can increase the risk of preterm labor or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Kitchen Safety: Food-borne infections contracted from undercooked food, or poorly washed products can increase the chances of a miscarriage. Wash your hands while cooking, properly clean fresh produce, and ensure food is prepared or stored at the right temperature to avoid infections.
- Flu Shot: Pregnant women are recommended to get the flu vaccine, especially during flu season. A high fever during pregnancy can lead to neural tube defects.
- Weight Control: Maintaining a healthy weight through light exercise and a proper diet can help you during and after pregnancy. Obesity has frequently been linked to diabetes, premature birth, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and other pregnancy loss.
- Healthy Eating Habits: A rich diet in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains has been proven to lower the risk of pregnancy complications. Your eating habits are essential to controlling your weight and blood sugar levels.
- Prenatal Care: Monitoring your pregnancy with regular check-ups is essential to help tackle any challenges early on. Conditions left untreated can lead to many pregnancy complications.
- Medication: If you suffer from chronic health problems, then you must keep everything under control by taking your medication. Consult your health care provider if you have any concerns. You can also choose specific vitamins and supplements like folic acid, to support a healthy pregnancy.
- Practice Safe Sex: Sexually active women are at a higher risk of contracting an STI, which can lead to stillbirth or ectopic pregnancy, which is when the egg attaches outside the uterus. Make sure you get vaginal check-ups to prevent contracting urinary or vaginal infections.
- Avoid Alcohol: Regular alcohol intake can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which can cause fetus development problems. It is imperative to stop drinking during pregnancy.
There are many ways to stay healthy during pregnancy and to avoid or manage complications before they get too dangerous. Ensure you go for regular check-ups with your healthcare provider. If you are experiencing any unusual symptoms, contact your doctor immediately so it can be treated quickly.
Learning and understanding the different complications associated with pregnancy can benefit you immensely by keeping both you and your baby safe.