You have found out you are pregnant. Congratulations!
This should be one of the happiest times of your life. But as soon as you read any of the pregnancy books, you learn all about the risks and potential complications that could happen. One of the first things your doctor will give you is a list of the things to not eat and the things not to do during pregnancy.
The truth is there are a lot of pregnancy risks to be aware of. There are risks in the food you eat, the products you use, and the things you do in life. You will face risks during labor and birth. There are signs you need to look out for to make sure your baby is safe and developing well.
Here is a look at all the pregnancy risks you need to know about, so you can then take steps and focus on the positives of pregnancy.
The Risks of Miscarriage
Let us start with one of the first fears you will have: losing the baby before 20 weeks. If you lose a baby at this time, it is classed as a miscarriage and not a stillbirth. Most miscarriages will happen during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and some of them you may not even know they’ve happened. They can happen before you even get that positive pregnancy test and it can come across as a heavy period.
Around 10-20% of pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Right now, doctors do not understand all the reasons for miscarriages. They are linked to some food and drink, but doctors also believe that miscarriages happen due to abnormalities in the chromosomes, preventing the development of the embryo. There are nothing mothers can do to prevent these abnormalities or from preventing the miscarriages.
Most miscarriages are noticed through bleeding and sometimes pain. That does not mean pain and bleeding are definite signs you are having a miscarriage. Your doctor will want to know though, and they can arrange a blood test and ultrasound to check.
After 20 weeks, the loss of a baby is known as a stillbirth. Again, doctors do not understand all the reasons for stillbirths to occur. There are many who recommend that you count the kicks. If your movement decreases at any time in pregnancy, talk to your doctor. Fetal movements should not decrease later in pregnancy but may change slightly.
The Risk of Premature Birth
Giving birth earlier than 37 weeks gestation is classed as giving birth prematurely. From 37 weeks your baby is classed as full-term, and while the baby may be early there are very few risks. Around 12% of babies are born before 37 weeks and there are some health risks to this. Doctors will attempt to keep the baby in the womb for as long as possible and they may be able to stop contractions to help do this.
Medical advancements are being made at the moment, but there are still high risks. Babies can be born with developmental delays and health problems. Poor eyesight, poor brain development, and small size are all common in premature babies.
Other Birthing and Baby Risks
There are some other birthing and baby risks that you need to be aware of. While some of these you cannot do anything about, they will help you look out for signs of them.
Ectopic pregnancy signs. Around 2% of pregnancies are ectopic. This is when the fertilized egg does not implant in the uterus. It is usually in the fallopian tube, which has led to the name tubal pregnancies. It is important to look for signs early on, as ectopic pregnancies can be fatal for the mother. They are always fatal for the fetus.
As the embryo develops, there is a risk of the fallopian tube rupturing. This causes internal bleeding.
You may notice signs like cramping around the area and referred pain in the shoulder. An ultrasound will help locate the egg to determine if it is ectopic or not.
Swelling during pregnancy. In the third trimester, you will usually start to see some of your body parts swell. This is very common on the feet and ankles, especially if you are on your feet a lot. In most of cases, there is nothing to worry about. The swelling is due to water retention and extra blood in your body, while you carry your baby.
However, your doctor will keep an eye on your swelling, along with the levels of protein in your urine. Swelling can be a sign of preeclampsia, which is a serious and life-threatening condition. Around 5% of women will suffer from it and doctors will order bed rest and early delivery to keep mother and baby safe.
Preeclampsia symptoms also include high blood pressure and protein in the urine. You may also see abnormalities in the kidney and liver function. The signs start appearing from week 20 of your pregnancy, but may not develop fully until later. The progression can be extremely fast. If you suffered it in a previous pregnancy, you are more likely to suffer from it in a subsequent pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes risks. Around 2-10% of women develop gestational diabetes. This is diabetes during pregnancy, and if you have had it in one pregnancy there is a high risk that you will develop it in another. Most of the time, you will get rid of the diabetes symptoms after birth but you may go on to develop diabetes in later life.
While the condition isn’t extremely common, it is serious and can affect the life and development of the child. Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are more likely to have diabetes in later life.
You will likely have a screening between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy. This is the time that gestational diabetes usually appears, so doctors will want to check just to make sure. Symptoms are similar to that of normal diabetes, including excessive thirst and constantly needing to urinate.
The majority of the time, gestational diabetes can be managed through a healthy diet and exercise. Your doctor will likely share some tips, including keeping your simple carb and refined sugar intake down.
Low levels of amniotic fluid. The amniotic fluid is one of the most important elements of pregnancy. It is the fluid that will protect your baby, but there are times that the fluid can decrease. This is known as oligohydramnios and affects about 4% of pregnancies. Most of the time it appears around the third trimester and can look like your baby bump has just suddenly disappeared.
Your doctor will watch your pregnancy closely if this happens. You may also be recommended to stay on bed rest and avoid all potentially risky activities. Your baby does not have as much protection from knocks to your stomach as it needs. You may be induced if you are considered full-term or close enough to it.
Placenta previa and abruptions. If your placenta is low in your uterus, you may be diagnosed with placenta previa. Your placenta may even be covering your cervix. You won’t usually notice anything in early pregnancy, although it will be there. It is in the later stages that it becomes more of an issue. There may be some bleeding and the condition can lead to complications that require an early delivery.
Your doctor will check the location of your placenta during pregnancy. However, it isn’t always noticed until later on. If you have had placenta previa in a previous pregnancy then you will be monitored more closely in the future.
You will usually deliver your baby through a c-section, rather than vaginally, since it is safer for both you and your baby. Placenta previa can lead to placental abruptions, where the placenta rips away from the uterus lining and causes unnatural bleeding.
Risks Due to Your Age
While you can get pregnant any time your menstrual cycle is in action, there are some risks due to your age. This isn’t just about getting older either!
You will have likely heard that mothers over the age of 35 have some pregnancy risks. This is for first-time mothers over the age of 35, rather than all pregnancies in older women. The main risk is that you are more likely to have a child with a genetic disorder, with Down syndrome the most common. You may also have some delivery complications, such as excessive bleeding and a labor that does not advance. Women over the age of 35 are more likely to need a c-section, which brings its own complications due to being surgical in nature.
However, teenagers can also carry their own complications. Teen pregnancies are more likely to lead to blood-related problems. You can suffer from anemia or high blood pressure. Younger moms are also likely to suffer from early labor. Teenagers are less likely to seek medical care during their pregnancies, often because they are worried about telling their parents. This can lead to health problems for mother and baby, as symptoms are ignored and signs are skipped.
Pregnancy Risks from Food, Drink, and Lifestyle Risks
The majority of the conditions above you have no control over. However, there are certain risks that you can limit. These are the risks associated with food and drink. You will have already been given a list of the foods not to eat. Most of these are to help avoid food poisoning and other infections. Not only can they be risky for the baby, but they can make your life miserable when you are already suffering from morning sickness and other pregnancy symptoms.
- Runny eggs
- Unpasteurized milk and dairy products
- Liver, kidney, and other organ meats
- Fish that are high in mercury, including shark and excessive tuna
- Moldy cheeses
- Fruit juices (drink in moderation)
- Caffeinated beverages (again, in moderation)
You will know that illegal drugs should be avoided, but what about over the counter drugs? The majority of them can cause a risk to your baby. Aspirin and ibuprofen should be avoided. They lead to thinner blood that is harder to clot, which can increase the risk of internal bleeding. Remember you have a lot of extra blood. They can also cause miscarriage early in pregnancy. However, Tylenol and other similar products are considered safe. Talk to your doctor if you are worried.
Other over the counter medications usually tell you to avoid during pregnancy. They will have various risks, such as causing fetal abnormalities, limit the nutrients in your body, affect your blood flow, and more. Before you take any over the counter treatments, including topical skin treatments, talk to your doctor.
If you have prescription medication, make sure you let your doctor know you are pregnant right away. Your doctor may need to change your medication during this time or may need you to stop taking your medication due to the risk of fetal deformities.
Skip the supplements, especially anything that has vitamin A. While you need vitamin A, you do not want the supplemental form. This is the animal form and has been linked to miscarriages and health problems in the baby. You want to get vitamin A naturally from fruits and vegetables. The only supplements your doctor will recommend are folic acid and vitamin D, which are created to be safe for pregnancy.
Those who have sexually transmitted diseases should talk to their doctor. STIs can affect the development of the baby and can also be passed onto the baby during birth.
Increases in your body temperature can also affect your baby. You will usually find that spas tell you to avoid Jacuzzis, hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms during pregnancy. This isn’t to be annoying, but due to the increase in body temperature. You will usually increase your body temperature to 102F or more. This can lead to development issues for the baby. There is also a risk to you, as you are more likely to feel faint and collapse.
You will need to watch out for the use of some household chemicals. The chemicals inside will affect your hormonal balance, which can cause problems for the development of your baby. Some studies show that the chemicals in normal household cleaning products can cause deformities and some genetic disorders. If you really need to use the products, make sure you have rubber gloves and a mask to prevent the transfer and inhalation of the chemicals.
Reduce the amount of junk food that you eat. While the junk food isn’t necessarily going to cause a risk to your baby, it is just full of empty calories. You give no nutritional benefits but end up with extra calories that are harder to work off. You are more likely to gain weight during pregnancy, which is a risk.
In fact, weight gain is something you should watch. Those who are overweight are more likely to suffer from premature labor. You are also more likely to have a large baby and have more complications during labor and pregnancy. If you are already overweight during pregnancy, your doctor won’t recommend a diet but will recommend a minimal weight gain of between 15 and 25lbs.
It is not just overweight people who are at risk of health problems. Those who are underweight run the risk of not getting enough nutrients to the baby. If you have a BMI of below 18, your doctor will likely recommend that you eat more to gain weight. A good weight gain during pregnancy is between 35 and 45lbs.
Look After Your Baby
It is nine months. You can avoid the majority of the risks in pregnancy in that time. Avoid the foods your doctor tells you to, cut down on your caffeine and alcohol intake, and change your cleaning products. You will reduce the number of pregnancy risks, even if you cannot do anything to prevent them all.