Although most women have healthy pregnancies, there are a number of complications that can occur during the prenatal period.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 4 million women give birth every year in the United States. Of these women, almost one-third will have some form of pregnancy complication. The CDC also estimates that two to three women die of pregnancy-related causes each day in the United States. This statistic refers to deaths that occur during pregnancy or those caused by pregnancy within one year after the pregnancy. In addition, many complications may result in first or second trimester pregnancy loss (miscarriage).
Pregnancy complications may result from the mother’s pre–existing disorders or diseases, the condition of the sperm or the egg or a number of additional factors. Although some women are more likely to have complications during pregnancy, they can develop in any woman. As a result, all pregnant women should know the signs and symptoms of pregnancy complications. Common signs and symptoms include:
Any type of vaginal bleeding
Any loss of fluid from the vagina or increased vaginal discharge
More than three contractions in an hour
Swelling of the face or fingers
Severe or constant headaches
Persistent vomiting (not related to morning sickness)
Fever or chills
Frequent and/or urgent urination or pain during urination (dysuria)
Dizziness or faintness
A noticeable change in frequency or absence of movement by the fetus (once it has begun moving)
Expectant mothers should contact their obstetrician-gynecologist (ObGyn) immediately when they experience any of these signs or symptoms.
There are a number of tests performed during pregnancy that enable physicians to prevent pregnancy complications or to detect them early. An ObGyn typically gives expectant mothers a schedule for prenatal visits, various blood tests and screenings, and additional procedures that may be required. Although not all complications can be prevented, women can reduce the risk of many of them by keeping all of their prenatal appointments. Women who do not receive the proper prenatal care and fail to undergo the recommended tests and screenings risk that potential complications may go undetected. This can often result is serious complications for the expectant mother and her fetus.
In addition, women can also reduce their risk of pregnancy complications by not smoking, drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs. All prescribed and over-the-counter medications should also be discussed with a physician before they are used during pregnancy. Maintaining a healthy diet is another important prevention method because fetuses require adequate nutrition to properly develop. ObGyns typically recommend that pregnant women add about 300 calories to their daily intake of food. There are also a number of foods an expectant mother should avoid including:
Soft, unpasteurized cheeses (e.g., feta, goat, Brie, blue cheese)
Unpasteurized milk, juice and cider
Raw eggs and foods containing raw eggs, including cookie dough, some ice creams and some salad dressings
Raw or undercooked meats, poultry, fish or shellfish
Processed meats (e.g., hot dogs, deli meats)
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These types of fish may contain high levels of mercury, a metal that can damage a fetus’s developing brain. The agency also advises limiting other kinds of fish and shellfish to a maximum of three servings a week and not eating the same type more than once a week. Canned light tuna is safer than canned albacore and tuna steaks, according to the FDA.
Overexertion or lack of physical fitness can also cause problems during pregnancy.
In addition, recent findings indicate that women who develop several complications during pregnancy may be at increased risk of heart disease later in life. Women who smoke during pregnancy also may be doubling their own risks of dying early from future heart disease or other health conditions.