A high-risk pregnancy is one that threatens the health or life of the mother or her fetus.
For most women, early and regular prenatal care promotes a healthy pregnancy and delivery without complications. But some women are at an increased risk for complications even before they get pregnant for a variety of reasons.
Risk factors for a high-risk pregnancy can include:
- Existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or being HIV-positive. Women with HIV can transmit the virus to their babies during pregnancy, while giving birth, or through breastfeeding. Women with very low viral loads may be able to have a vaginal delivery with a low risk of transmission. An option for pregnant women with higher viral loads (measurement of the amount of active HIV in the blood) is a cesarean delivery, which reduces the risk of passing HIV to the infant during labor and delivery. Early and regular prenatal care is important. Women who take medication to treat their HIV and have a cesarean delivery can reduce the risk of transmission to 2%.1
- Overweight and obesity. Obesity increases the risk for high blood pressure, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, stillbirth, neural tube defects, and cesarean delivery. NICHD researchers have found that obesity can raise infants' risk of heart problems at birth by 15%.2
- Multiple births. The risk of complications is higher in a twin pregnancy and increases with more fetuses in the uterus. Common complications include preeclampsia, premature labor, and preterm birth. More than half of all twins and as many as 93% of triplets are born preterm.3
- Young or old maternal age. Pregnancy in teens and women aged 35 or over increases the risk for preeclampsia and gestational high blood pressure. For teens, a lack of prenatal care in the first trimester increases the risk for problems.4
Women with high-risk pregnancies should receive care from a special team of health care providers to ensure that their pregnancies are healthy and that they can carry their infant or infants to term.
For more information on high-risk pregnancy, visit the High-Risk Pregnancy topic.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). FAQs: HIV and pregnancy. Retrieved July 30, 2012, from http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq113.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120730T1640322605 (PDF - 279 KB) [top]
- NIH. (2010). Risk of newborn heart defects increases with maternal obesity [news release]. Retrieved July 30, 2012, from http://www.nih.gov/news/health/apr2010/nichd-07.htm [top]
- Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. (n.d.). High-risk pregnancy care, research, and education for over 35 years. Retrieved August 1, 2012, from https://www.smfm.org/attachedfiles/SMFMMonograph3.1.pdf (PDF - 726 KB) [top]
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (2011). Teenage pregnancy. Retrieved August 1, 2012, from http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/dating-sex/pages/Teenage-Pregnancy.aspx [top]