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High-risk pregnancies include issues such as maternal obesity, gestational diabetes, and high blood pressure, and can increase the chances of a baby developing cerebral palsy. It’s crucial for medical professionals to monitor high-risk pregnancies, as early treatment can help prevent illnesses and disorders.
What is a High-risk Pregnancy?
A high-risk pregnancy is defined as a pregnancy in which an infant is at risk for developing health issues. It also means that a mother is at risk for miscarriage and stillbirth.
Many factors constitute a high-risk pregnancy. The following are the most common reasons doctors diagnose pregnant patients as high risk.
All pregnant women should be screened for diabetes. Gestational diabetes is defined as “carbohydrate intolerance resulting in hyperglycaemia of variable severity with onset or first recognition during pregnancy,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 
Gestational diabetes is also the phrase used for pregnant women diagnosed with diabetes for the first time. Expectant mothers can help generally control gestational diabetes by eating healthy foods and exercising. Sometimes medications are required.
If gestational diabetes isn’t diagnosed and controlled, it can lead to preeclampsia, high blood pressure, and an increased chance of having a baby delivered via C-section. Both preeclampsia and high blood pressure can be life-threatening to both mother and baby and can lead to an infant developing disorders, such as cerebral palsy.
Maternal obesity is considered high risk during pregnancy because it can potentially lead to many health problems, including premature birth or macrosomic birth (unusually large baby). It’s also associated with hypertension, preeclampsia, prolonged labor, and gestational diabetes. 
Obese patients also have a heightened chance of doctors using forceps or other devices used to assist in deliveries, which have been known to cause injuries in infants, including brain bleeds.
Further, the U.S. National Institutes of Health reports that pregnant women with a high body mass index (BMI) have an increased risk of having children with cerebral palsy. 
Preeclampsia is the leading cause of preterm birth and is associated with a heightened risk of having a child with cerebral palsy.
Preeclampsia is defined as high blood pressure after the 20th week of pregnancy, whereas the early onset of high blood pressure before the 20th week is called chronic hypertension.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “in a comparison with normal pregnant women, the rate of cerebral palsy is double among patients with preeclampsia, especially those with early-onset disease.” 
Other Reasons for High-Risk Pregnancy and Cerebral Palsy
- Maternal age (women over 35 are considered high-risk when pregnant, as they’re more prone to develop preeclampsia and gestational diabetes)
- Autoimmune disease
- Thyroid issues
- Mothers who smoke and/or drink
- Carrying twins or multiples
- Having a history of pregnancy-related hypertension
What to do if You Have a High-Risk Pregnancy
If you’re not yet pregnant but plan to be, contact your physician and set up a preconception appointment. According to the Mayo Clinic, the purpose of a preconception appointment is so that your doctor can help you get to a healthy weight (if needed), as well as start you on prenatal vitamins. 
If you have a health condition prior to pregnancy, your doctor can help manage and treat it before conception.
If you are already pregnant, make sure you tell your doctor of any and all health conditions. Your doctor may run a prenatal assessment, which checks for medical issues. Women considered high risk during pregnancy may undergo additional, more extensive testing when compared to women who are not considered high-risk.
If you encounter any of the following while pregnant, contact your physician as soon as possible:
- Cramping and pain, particularly in the lower abdominal area
- Vaginal bleeding
- Blurred vision
- Severe swelling in hands, feet
- Painful urination
- No fetal activity or a decrease in fetal activity
- Persistent vomiting
- High fever, chills
As always during pregnancy, make sure you keep your stress levels as low as possible and eat a healthy diet. For additional information on healthy foods to eat, consult with your primary physician, who may be able to refer you to a pregnancy dietician.
- WHO recommendation on the diagnosis of gestational diabetes in pregnancy. (2018, March 8). WHO/OMS: World Health Organization.
Retrieved from: https://extranet.who.int/rhl/topics/preconception-pregnancy-childbirth-and-postpartum-care/antenatal-care/who-recommendation-diagnosis-gestational-diabetes-pregnancy-0
- Leddy, M., Power PhD, M., & Schulkin PhD, J. (2008). The impact of maternal obesity on maternal and fetal health. PubMed Central (PMC). U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2621047/
- Maternal Prepregnancy BMI and risk of cerebral palsy in offspring. (2016, October). PubMed Central (PMC). U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5051208/
- Early onset preeclampsia and cerebral palsy: a double hit model? (2015, August 1). American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Retrieved from: https://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(15)00871-6/pdf
- High-risk pregnancy: Know what to expect. (2020, February 8). Mayo Clinic.
Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/high-risk-pregnancy/art-20047012