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High-Risk Pregnancy

A high-risk pregnancy is one of greater risk to the mother or her fetus than an uncomplicated pregnancy. Pregnancy places additional physical and emotional stress on a woman’s body. Health problems that occur before a woman becomes pregnant or during pregnancy may also increase the likelihood for a high-risk pregnancy. 

Risk Factors

The factors that place a pregnancy at risk can be divided into four categories: existing health conditions, age, lifestyle factors, and conditions of pregnancy.

Existing Health Conditions


Lifestyle Factors

Conditions of Pregnancy

How many people are at risk of having a high-risk pregnancy?

The more risk factors a woman has, the more likely she and her fetus will be at risk during pregnancy and birth. Statistics are available for some risk factors:


Good prenatal care will help to identify the potential for high-risk pregnancy. Health care providers will ask a woman about her medical history and will perform assessments to determine whether she is likely to experience a high-risk pregnancy based on her risk factors. Ongoing monitoring of physical health and personal habits will help a health care provider identify problems that develop during pregnancy.

A woman with a high-risk pregnancy will also likely receive care from a special team of health care providers throughout the pregnancy to ensure that she carries the fetus or fetuses to term.

Can a high-risk pregnancy be prevented?

Staying healthy is one of the best ways to lower the risk of having a difficult pregnancy. Many health care providers recommend that women who are thinking about becoming pregnant get evaluated to make sure they are in good preconception health. During pregnancy, there are also steps a woman can take to reduce the risk of certain problems1:


For women who are diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy, treatment varies depending on the risk factors.

High Blood Pressure

Some changes to high blood pressure medication may be necessary during pregnancy. A health care provider can also offer advice about the best way to keep blood pressure under control. Suggestions may include recommendations to limit salt intake and get regular exercise.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes, or developing diabetes during pregnancy, increases the risk of pregnancy complications. However, many women have healthy pregnancies and healthy infants because they follow a health care provider’s recommended diet and treatment plan. A woman diagnosed with gestational diabetes should1:

Some women with gestational diabetes will also need to take medicine, such as an oral hypoglycemic tablet or insulin to help manage their diabetes.

HIV Treatment

HIV infection can be passed from a mother to her fetus as well as during childbirth and breastfeeding, but treatment can prevent transmission.

FAQs about High-Risk Pregnancy

1.    How do I know if I have or will have a high-risk pregnancy?

If you are thinking about getting pregnant or are already pregnant, visit your health care provider. He or she will check your medical history and run tests to determine whether you are likely to have a high-risk pregnancy. Your health care provider will help you come up with a plan for reducing the risks while you are pregnant.

2.    How can I best take care of myself and my fetus during my pregnancy?

You can take care of yourself and your fetus during pregnancy by eating healthy; avoiding drugs, smoking, and alcohol; exercising regularly; getting good prenatal care; and following your health care provider’s recommendations.

3.    If I get gestational diabetes, will I still have diabetes after the infant is born?

If you develop diabetes during pregnancy, typically, you do not continue to have diabetes after delivery. However, gestational diabetes can raise a woman’s risk of developing diabetes later in life.

4.    As an older first-time mom, am I more likely to have a cesarean section?

Just because a woman is older, it does not mean she will have a cesarean delivery. However, older woman are more likely to have high-risk pregnancies, so if you are an older first-time mom, it is possible that you will have complications that require a cesarean.

Reference: National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development