Medical Complications and Risks Associated with Pregnancy and Childbirth

Medical Risks

Over the years, the risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth has declined significantly. Such deaths are now considered very uncommon. In fact, most women go through pregnancy and childbirth without any life threatening complications. However, there are complications that may occur in some women.

Common complications of pregnancy include:

  • High blood pressure. Sometimes called pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH), pre-eclampsia, or gestational hypertension, high blood pressure in pregnancy is a complication that occurs in approximately 8% of pregnant women. Usually it is detected sometime after the 20th week of pregnancy and it goes away soon after birth. When it is severe, conditions can develop which can place the mother and fetus at risk. The mother may have organ damage (eyes, kidneys, liver, or brain), swelling of hands and face, and even seizures. The fetus may not get enough blood, which is rich in oxygen and nutrients, through the placenta and may stop growing. The fetus may also be at risk for premature
    delivery and related problems.
  • Bleeding. Postpartum hemorrhage is heavy bleeding after childbirth. Women who lose too much blood may need a blood transfusion or require a hysterectomy to stop blood loss.
  • Infection. Infections may develop during pregnancy or after delivery. Infections during pregnancy can contribute to preterm delivery.
  • Premature labor. Premature labor is labor that starts between 20 and 37 weeks of pregnancy. Some premature labor can be stopped with medicine.
  • Preterm birth. Preterm birth is a baby born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Babies born early are at a higher risk of health problems and may require admission to the newborn intensive care unit.
  • Blood clots. Blood clots can form in the blood vessels and break away to the lungs or brain, which may cause maternal death.
  • Gestational diabetes. Diabetes that develops during pregnancy may cause the baby to be born big if not properly controlled. Some women can control gestational diabetes with diet, while others may need to use insulin until birth.
  • Placenta previa. This is a condition where the placenta covers all or part of the opening of the uterus (cervix). Many previas will resolve with expansion of the growing uterus; however, if it is still present at delivery, a cesarean section may be required.
  • Placental abruption. An abruption occurs when the placenta separates from the uterus before delivery.

In addition, existing medical conditions such as diabetes or heart and kidney problems may get worse during pregnancy.

There are several factors known to increase a woman’s risk for complications. These include:

  • Age (those younger and older women at the extremes of the childbearing years)
  • Lack of prenatal care
  • Smoking, alcohol, or drug use
  • Closely spaced pregnancies (when there is less than 12 months between delivery and conception

Emotional Risks
During pregnancy and following the birth of a baby, a wide range of emotions are possible. A substantial number of new mothers experience various degrees of postpartum depression. This complication can occur within days of the delivery or appear gradually, sometimes up to a year later. In most cases, women will experience mild symptoms that may last only a few days. However, some women may experience severe symptoms such as exhaustion, hopelessness, worthlessness, memory loss, and fear of harming herself or the baby. Although these symptoms may not last long, professional help and support should be sought.

You can reduce the risk for complications in any pregnancy by getting early and regular prenatal care; eating a well-balanced diet; achieving a steady weight gain; getting regular exercise; and by not smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs.

If you have questions or concerns talk to your healthcare provider or call the Mother to Baby Program at the Utah Department of Health at 855-999-3525 or emailexpertinfo@mothertobaby.org.

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