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What to Expect When Expecting Pregnancy Complications

When a baby is on board, the body is full of surprises, from random food cravings to glowing skin to roller-coaster emotions. These twists and turns may even bring about alarming news from your doctor concerning a high-risk pregnancy. This scary diagnosis can send anyone into a panic. But with a treatment plan and some healthy lifestyle changes, you can prepare yourself for a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

"Many patients with high-risk pregnancies have healthy outcomes,” says Lauren Theilen, MD, MS, assistant professor of maternal fetal medicine at University of Utah Health. “Obstetricians who specialize in high-risk pregnancies work hard to keep moms with a range of risk factors safe throughout their pregnancy.” 

Take Stock of Your Health Risks

To prepare yourself for the nine months ahead, review any health conditions—including family history—that could cause complications.  Some of the most common health risks include diabetes, previous pregnancy complications, carrying multiple fetuses, and chronic high blood pressure. The three most concerning conditions are:  

  1. Heart Disease: Pregnancy sends the heart into overdrive, posing serious health risks for those with pre-existing heart conditions. Left untreated, this condition could lead to a heart attack or stroke.
  2. Blood Clots: A blood clot is a clump of blood that forms when blood changes from a liquid to a solid. Due to hormonal changes, pregnant women face a higher risk for clots, which could lead to a stroke.
  3. Preeclampsia: This type of high blood pressure occurs only during pregnancy. Without medical treatment, this condition could cause serious organ damage, stroke, and other complications.

Pro tip: Ask your doctor if low-dose baby aspirin is right for you. It’s also a good idea to log your blood pressure readings at home. Be sure to fit the arm cuff just right

Know When to Call the Doctor

Get immediate help if you are experiencing the following symptoms: 

  • Shortness of breath
  • An unusual heartbeat 
  • Discoloration in one arm or leg
  • Swelling or warmth in one arm or leg
  • Extreme nausea and vomiting
  • A headache that won’t go away
  • Sharp chest pain
  • Pain in the upper right side of the belly 
  • Vision changes 

Pregnancy Pre-Game Tips

Before the test turns positive, take stock of your health risks and get ahead of any potential dangers with the following lifestyle changes: 

  • Speak to your doctor early about prenatal care.
  • Take prenatal vitamins several months ahead of time. 
  • Eat a healthy diet (think lean meats, produce and grains). 
  • Start an exercise routine. Just a 30-minute daily walk can make a big difference. 
  • Get on a steady sleep schedule and stick to it. 
  • Just say no to recreational drugs and reduce your alcohol intake. 

Put Your Mental Health First

As we are all told while flying the friendly skies, caretakers must first put on their oxygen masks before attending to their loved ones. This goes for your mental health as well. Before stowing away your prescription bottles, talk to your doctor first about potential dangers. You may be surprised to find that these medications most likely pose little to no threat to your baby. 

“Anybody who has anxiety or depression should talk with their health care provider before they unnecessarily decide to go off their medications,” Theilen says. “When you look at the big picture, the benefits outweigh the risks in most cases.” 

Theilen also encourages mothers to stop shouldering the blame for their health complications, which can cause more stress and anxiety. 

"I find that a lot of moms carry a great deal of guilt when they have a complication with their pregnancy,” Theilen says. “Oftentimes, they don't ask the question that weighs heavily on their mind: 'What did I do to cause this?' I try to proactively answer this question by telling them they did nothing to cause this and to speak with their care team for more clarity and reassurance."