Each year, nearly 4 million babies are born in the United States. The majority of women experience a routine pregnancy. However, some women experience medical difficulties, making their pregnancy high-risk. Some of these conditions may be known before pregnancy, such as chronic hypertension, diabetes, or epilepsy and others may develop during the pregnancy. When a pregnancy is deemed “high-risk,” a physician will pay closer attention to the pregnancy.

Conditions that cause a pregnancy to become high-risk can put mom and baby at an increased risk for complications. High-risk pregnancies can include those affected by:

  • Pre-existing health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure
  • Use of alcohol, illegal drugs or tobacco
  • The mother’s age (younger than 17 or over 35)
  • Multiple babies (i.e., twins or triplets)
  • Multiple prior miscarriages
  • The baby being diagnosed with a genetic condition, poor growth, or a physical malformation
  • Development of preterm labor or pre-eclampsia
  • Abnormal location of the placenta, especially with a previous cesarean section delivery
  • Problems during a previous pregnancy

In order to keep a better eye on a high-risk pregnancy, a physician will schedule more check-ups during pregnancy. A woman may have more ultrasounds, blood pressure checks and urine tests. Depending on the specific condition, other tests may be prescribed on a more frequent basis.

When a woman is diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy, she’ll need to see a physician with special training, like a maternal-fetal specialist, also known as a perinatologist. This doctor may be the only doctor seen during pregnancy, or an OB/GYN may be seen primarily with consultation from the maternal-fetal medicine physician.

For women with a high-risk pregnancy including a pre-existing medical problem, there are several steps they can take to be as healthy as possible, including:

  • Seeking a pre conception evaluation if there is a known medical condition prior to the pregnancy
  • Going to all doctor visits
  • Eating a healthy diet with protein, fruits and vegetables
  • Taking medications and vitamins prescribed by a physician
  • Taking daily folic acid prior to conception and in the first trimester to reduce the risk of a birth defect of the spine called spina bifida
  • Following the doctor’s instructions for activities
  • Abstaining from smoking and drinking
  • Staying away from people with colds or infections
  • Obtaining flu and whooping cough (known as Tdap) vaccines during the pregnancy to protect both mother and baby

The BirthCare Center at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach has earned level IV maternity designation from the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. A level IV maternity center has the capabilities to care for the most critical, complex and fragile pregnancies.

More than 2,000 women with high-risk pregnancies are treated in the Perinatal Special Care Unit each year. Spacious private rooms, equipped with the latest monitoring technology, are designed to provide a peaceful environment. A maternal-fetal specialist is available in the hospital 24/7 to manage complex maternity and fetal care as well as an in the hospital anesthesiologist specializing in anesthesia for pregnant women.  Just down the hall from the Perinatal Special Care Unit is Miller Children’s level III (tertiary) Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Neonatologists and an expert care team are available 24/7 to care for newborns and their families.

Women with high-risk pregnancies should come to a hospital like Miller Children’s, so that the mother can obtain the best medical care for any condition she may have and in the event her baby needs to go to the NICU immediately following birth, they will not need to be transported to another hospital and away from mom. 

For more information, visit Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital High-Risk Pregnancy Program