9 Common Complications of Pregnancy
Complications during pregnancy vary in nature and severity. These problems may involve the baby’s health, the mother’s health, or both. Some women, who are otherwise healthy, have issues that arise during gestation, while others have health problems before becoming pregnant that may lead to complications. Early, regular prenatal care may lower the chance complications will occur by allowing healthcare providers to diagnose and manage the situation before it becomes more dangerous.
Before Becoming Pregnant
Speak with your healthcare provider if you have a history of health problems. If you’re currently taking certain medications or receiving treatment for an issue, your doctor may want you to switch to an alternative method or treatment to avoid potential harm to your baby. In other cases, they may advise you to continue certain medications that would be too risky to stop. Be sure to mention any health problems you may have experienced with any prior pregnancies. If your health issues are manageable and you’re receiving good prenatal medical supervision, odds are good for having a healthy baby.
After Becoming Pregnant
Pregnancy complications range from simply aggravating aches to severely painful and even life-threatening. Frustratingly, it’s not always obvious which symptoms are normal and which are not. Always consult your prenatal healthcare provider about any questions or concerns that arise during your pregnancy.
The following are some of the most common complications a person may experience during pregnancy:
“Morning sickness” (nausea and/or vomiting) is quite common during the first three months of pregnancy. It’s thought to be caused by an increase in HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) hormone levels released by the placenta. Hyperemesis gravidarum is a far more intense version, with severe and persistent nausea and vomiting throughout the pregnancy. This can cause dehydration and weight loss in some individuals and may require medical intervention.
A person with anemia may feel weak and tired due to having a lower-than-normal number of healthy red blood cells. Your doctor may prescribe iron supplements and folic acid to help restore your blood count and will monitor your iron levels throughout pregnancy.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
A UTI is a bacterial infection of the urinary tract. Symptoms may include the frequent need to urinate; pain or burning during urination; urine that’s dark, cloudy, or has an odor; fever; fatigue; and/or back pain. Some infections are asymptomatic. To diagnose a UTI, your doctor will test a sample of your urine and prescribe antibiotics if needed.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy when a woman’s body is not making enough insulin. This condition typically develops during the second trimester and cannot be treated with medication. Most treatment is through diet or insulin.
Also known as toxemia, pre-eclampsia is a condition starting after 20 weeks of pregnancy that is associated with high blood pressure and problems with the kidneys and other organs. A person with pre-eclampsia may experience swelling of the hands and face, high protein levels in their urine, stomach pain, blurred vision, dizziness, and headaches.
The only cure is delivery, which may not be best for the baby depending on the timing. Labor will probably be induced if the condition is mild, and the woman is near term (37 to 40 weeks of pregnancy). If it is too early to deliver, the doctor will closely monitor the health of the mother and her baby. She may require medicines and bed rest at home or in the hospital to lower her blood pressure. Medicines also may be administered to prevent the mother from having seizures.
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Women with chronic unmanaged high blood pressure before and during pregnancy are at an increased risk for complications. They are at a higher risk for experiencing gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and placental abruption (separation of the placenta from the uterine wall). Their babies are also at an increased risk for preterm birth, small gestational age, and infant death. The best way to manage complications from hypertension is to talk with your healthcare provider before you become pregnant to try to get the situation under control.
Mental Health Issues
Depression is common during and after pregnancy. There are many symptoms, including the following:
- Difficulty in concentration or decision-making
- Feelings of shame or guilt
- Loss of interest in activities you previously found enjoyable
- Thinking or feeling life just isn’t worth it
While everyone has an off day sometimes, several of these symptoms occurring together for more than a couple of weeks at a time may be depression. Having a history of depression before pregnancy can also increase your risk for postpartum depression. Struggling with depression can make it extremely difficult for a parent to care for themselves and their baby. If you suspect you’re experiencing depression or have a history of depression, speak with your healthcare provider as soon as possible to get the care you need to manage this condition.
Overweight and obese people are at a greater risk for a number of pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, stillbirth, and cesarean delivery. They are also more likely to need additional medical intervention and require longer hospital stays for labor and delivery. Losing weight prior to pregnancy typically leads to healthier outcomes. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers suggestions on ways to reach and maintain a healthy weight before you get pregnant.
An ectopic pregnancy, or “tubal pregnancy” occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. Women who have undergone sterilization procedures, have been diagnosed with endometriosis or other female reproductive disorders, or have certain types of infection are at risk. A person undergoing an ectopic pregnancy may experience abdominal pain, shoulder pain, vaginal bleeding, and feel dizzy or faint. An ectopic pregnancy cannot grow or develop into a baby. Therefore, drugs (methotrexate) or surgical intervention are required to remove the ectopic tissue and prevent organ damage or possible death.
Pregnancy complications vary in nature and complexity. The good news is that with proper treatment and care, most can be managed. Good consistent prenatal care is key to keeping you and your baby safe and ensuring a healthy delivery.
Want to learn more? Heidi Murkoff’s best seller, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, is filled with must-have information, practical advice, realistic insight, easy-to-use tips, and lots of reassurance. You’ll also find the very latest on prenatal screenings, which medications are safe, and the most current birthing options. Your pregnancy lifestyle gets equal attention, too: eating (including food trends) to coffee drinking, working out (and work) to sex, travel to beauty, skincare, and more. Have pregnancy symptoms? You will—and you’ll find solutions for them all.
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