What is Considered a High-Risk Pregnancy?

What is Considered a High-Risk Pregnancy?

Your pregnancy week by week

Whether you’ve been told you have a high-risk pregnancy, you may have one, or you want to find out more about them, we’ve got all the answers.
Finding out you’re pregnant may be an incredibly exciting moment in your life, but there are times when seeing those two lines might also fill you with apprehension.

And this may especially be the case if you’re concerned about having a high-risk pregnancy.

What is considered high-risk pregnancy?

Well, the high-risk pregnancy definition is when the health of the baby or mama-to-be is threatened because of various factors.

In this blog post, we’ll explain more.

In this article: 📝

  • What defines a high-risk pregnancy?
  • How do you know if you have a high-risk pregnancy?
  • Can you get a high-risk pregnancy during your pregnancy?
  • What should I do if I have a high-risk pregnancy?
  • Do I get extra support with a high-risk pregnancy?

What defines a high-risk pregnancy?

When you go for your first prenatal appointment, you’ll be asked questions about your medical history to determine whether yours is a high-risk pregnancy.

This helps the professionals assess your situation and give you the appropriate advice tailored to your high-risk pregnancy circumstances.

So what makes a pregnancy high risk? Well, high-risk pregnancy doctors will look for a range of factors, including:

  • Having a heart condition or any blood disorders.
  • Any health conditions like diabetes, kidney diseases, epilepsy, autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure, asthma, and obesity.
  • Any lifestyle choices like smoking, drinking alcohol, or using illegal drugs.
  • A family history of genetic conditions.
  • A history of complicated pregnancies, including any miscarriages, preterm labor, c-section or complex delivery, or having a child with a birth difference.
  • Your age during the pregnancy.

What is the most high-risk pregnancy?

There isn’t really a “most” high-risk pregnancy, as each pregnancy is different, and a high-risk pregnancy can be due to a few different factors.

It’s all down to you and your pregnancy journey.

At what weight are you considered high-risk pregnancy?

A high-risk pregnancy due to weight could be a BMI (body mass index) of over 30 or under 18.5.

However, BMI is not the only indicator of a healthy person ‒ after all, it’s an equation that doesn’t allow for different circumstances, body tolerances, and muscle tone.

While there is a link between BMI and body fat, which, if high or low, can be an indicator of a high-risk pregnancy, it’s not the only method of detecting whether you have a high-risk pregnancy.

Why is 35 high-risk pregnancy?

What’s the age of high-risk pregnancy?

Well, 35 and older or 17 and younger are considered qualifying for a high-risk pregnancy.

Sadly, over the age of 35, the risk of pregnancy loss and chromosomal conditions (like Downs Syndrome), along with the potential for the pregnancy to cause harm to the mother, are all increased, and they keep increasing from that point.

However, that doesn’t mean that a person over 35 shouldn’t get pregnant ‒ more that it could take longer to get pregnant, and the pregnancy would be considered high-risk, so would be monitored more often.

For people aged 17 and under, their bodies may not be fully developed, which can put both them and baby in a high-risk pregnancy situation.

Are IVF pregnancies high risk?

Unfortunately, yes, IVF pregnancies are considered high-risk pregnancies.

So why is IVF classed as a high-risk pregnancy?

Well, any pregnancy that’s a result of fertility treatment, as they each have their own risks.

For IVF, there is a slightly higher risk of an ectopic pregnancy, which can cause pregnancy loss and potentially harm the mother.

While these chances are still relatively low, it’s worth being aware of, so speak to your doctor if you’re concerned about ectopic pregnancies with IVF.

What is a high-risk OB called?

So what are high-risk pregnancy doctors called?

They’re known as perinatologists.

If you’re not sure when to see a perinatologist, don’t worry, if you are pregnant and your doctor thinks you may have a high-risk pregnancy, they will refer you.

How do you know if you have a high-risk pregnancy?

One of the first things that will be recorded on your medical file is your age, because pregnant women under 17 or over 35 are considered high-risk pregnancy age groups.

But there are many other factors that medical professionals take into account when advising if you have a high-risk pregnancy or not.

If you’re looking for high-risk pregnancy symptoms, they can vary from person to person.

What could be a high-risk pregnancy symptom for one mama might not be for another.

But if you notice any of the following during your pregnancy, speak with your doctor as soon as you can, just in case:

  • Cramping around baby
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Sudden or severe headaches
  • Sudden or severe swelling anywhere around your body
  • Burning while peeing
  • Lack of movement from the fetus (if they have moved before)
  • Changes in vision

What about high-risk pregnancy antepartum symptoms?

As in symptoms of a high-risk pregnancy before you get pregnant?

Well, if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or infections, if your BMI is above 30 or less than 18.5, or if you are 17 and under or 35 and under, those could be indicators of a high-risk pregnancy.

If you think you may have a high-risk pregnancy before you start TTC (trying to conceive), speak with your doctor beforehand.

How many pregnancies are considered high-risk?

It’s hard to calculate exactly how many pregnancies are considered high-risk, because of the range of reasons and factors that can contribute to a high-risk pregnancy.

However, according to the University of California San Francisco, high-risk pregnancies could be as many as 6-8% of all pregnancies.

And according to the Cleveland Clinic, around 50,000 people have high-risk pregnancies each year.

Can you get a high-risk pregnancy during your pregnancy?

Sometimes, the amazing work our bodies are doing is complicated by factors beyond our control.

Various issues can arise during your pregnancy that can make it a high-risk pregnancy, and are separate to the mama’s health, such as:

  • If you are pregnant with twins or multiple babies.
  • If there are problems with the structure of the uterus or a shortened cervix then mama’s can be at a higher risk of premature labor.
  • If the placenta has settled into an unusual position over the cervix, it is called placenta previa and can cause bleeding during the pregnancy.
  • Rh sensitization – which is when your blood group is Rh-negative and the baby is Rh-positive.
  • Slow growth of the baby or other concerns, which can be found during an ultrasound or in other tests.
  • Preeclampsia – high blood pressure can be an indicator and can be dangerous if untreated.
  • Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. It can be managed by your healthcare provider, and usually resolves itself after delivery.

Can a high-risk pregnancy be prevented?

No, you can’t really prevent a high-risk pregnancy, but you can reduce your chances.

This is because there are so many reasons and factors that can cause a high-risk pregnancy.

For example, if your doctor says that you may have a high-risk pregnancy (or be more likely to have a high-risk pregnancy if you’re TTC) due to your current lifestyle, there may be things you can do to reduce your chances.

However, some causes for a high-risk pregnancy, like a blood clotting disorder, for example, aren’t preventable and may be due to pre-existing medical conditions.

What makes a pregnancy high risk for Down’s Syndrome?

There are a few factors that can increase the chances of a high-risk pregnancy resulting in a fetus with Down’s Syndrome, but sometimes it can be random.


If you are over 35, that can also increase your chances of having a Down’s Syndrome pregnancy.

If you also have a family history of Down’s Syndrome, that will also increase your chances.

If you have a Down’s Syndrome pregnancy, you can always find support and advice from our mamas on Peanut with Down’s Syndrome babies.

What should I do if I have a high-risk pregnancy?

If you’re advised that you’re carrying a high-risk pregnancy, you and your doctor will probably create a prenatal care plan together that focuses on keeping you and your baby safe.

This plan may include following some of these recommendations for the management of high-risk pregnancy:

  • Additional prenatal appointments, tests, or ultrasounds.
  • An appointment with a genetic counselor or a physician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.
  • A plan for a healthy diet and a safe exercise routine.
  • A plan to stop smoking, drinking alcohol, or using illegal drugs.
  • And, if absolutely necessary, then complete bed rest at home or in a hospital.

You may also be advised to be aware of specific symptoms, like bleeding or pain – and you should always call your doctor if you experience these symptoms during your high-risk pregnancy.

How are high-risk pregnancies monitored?

If you have a high-risk pregnancy, you’ll likely have more prenatal appointments and visits to your doctor ‒ mainly to check up on how you and baby are doing.

Keeping a pregnancy planner is something that our mamas with high-risk pregnancies recommend doing, because you’ll likely be expected to keep track of lots of different things you’re doing during your high-risk pregnancy.

Do you get more ultrasounds with a high-risk pregnancy?

Yes, you’ll likely have more ultrasounds with a high-risk pregnancy.

Where mamas with low-risk pregnancies may have two ultrasounds, a mama of a high-risk pregnancy may have three or four. Or five.

So beyond your initial 8-week ultrasound, you may have a nuchal translucency ultrasound, 16-week ultrasound, 30-week ultrasound, or a 40-week ultrasound.

What is a high-risk ultrasound?

A high-risk pregnancy ultrasound is usually done between 20 weeks and 36 weeks, reviewed by a qualified perinatologist rather than an ultrasound technician.

How often are high-risk pregnancy appointments?

If you’re after a high-risk pregnancy appointments timeline, the best thing to do is speak with your doctor.

One high-risk pregnancy may have more appointments than another, so there isn’t really a single answer.

A low-risk pregnancy may have around 10-15 prenatal appointments (although it’s worth noting that not all of these will involve an ultrasound), but a high-risk pregnancy could have anywhere from 15-35.

Should a high-risk pregnant woman work?

Again, there’s no easy answer to whether a woman with a high-risk pregnancy should work, as there are different reasons for a high-risk pregnancy.

For some mamas, high-risk pregnancy and work can go well together, and for others, it might not.

Speak with your doctor about your work to see whether you can work with a high-risk pregnancy.

It may be that your employer can make a few changes during your pregnancy to help.

Can a high-risk pregnancy fly?

More often than not, yes, you can fly with a high-risk pregnancy.

But if you’re planning on taking a trip with a high-risk pregnancy, speak with your doctor beforehand.

Do I get extra support with a high-risk pregnancy?

You might be wondering if you get extra appointments, or ask how many ultrasounds do you get in a high-risk pregnancy?

What your practitioner offers you will vary, depending on your circumstances, and which specific high-risk factors they’re supporting.

With this in mind, you might be recommended:

  • Specialized ultrasound, where pictures of the baby in the uterus can be taken and targeted at suspected problems, such as low fetal growth.
  • Biophysical ultrasound, where the baby’s well-being is monitored, including fetal heart rate monitoring (also known as a “nonstress test”).
  • Ultrasound for cervical length, which can be used to assess your risk for preterm labor.
  • Lab tests, where your urine can be tested for urinary tract infections and you can be screened for infectious diseases such as HIV and syphilis.
  • Prenatal cell-free DNA (cfDNA) screening, where a blood sample is taken from the mama, and the baby’s DNA is screened for specific chromosome problems.
  • Invasive genetic screening. These tests are called amniocentesis or Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS). During amniocentesis, a sample of the amniotic fluid that protects your baby during pregnancy is taken from the uterus. During CVS, a sample of cells is removed from the placenta. Your healthcare provider can give you much more detailed info about these tests, because they do carry risks.

Going through a high-risk pregnancy can be stressful, worrying, and scary.

Please don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare provider about any questions that are bugging you.

And the Peanut community is always here to offer support, where you can meet, chat, and learn from like-minded women.

💛 More from The 411:
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Can You Take a Paternity Test While Pregnant?
Can You Do a DNA Test While Pregnant?
All the Info You Need About NIPT Testing
All You Need to Know About the 3D Ultrasound
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19 Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
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Managing Anxiety During Pregnancy
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