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Complications are health problems that occur during pregnancy that can involve health of the mother, the baby or both. Complications can be experienced even by women who have been healthy before, and those who have had problems before have a higher chance of experiencing them again. Complications can make the pregnancy a high-risk pregnancy that requires regular care and monitoring. Although most pregnancies are uncomplicated, it is helpful to know which ones are likely to affect expecting mothers.
The pregnancy complications list compiled here discusses various commonly occurring complications during pregnancy that all expectant mothers need to be aware of.
Video: 8 Common Pregnancy Complications to Watch Out for
Miscarriage is a loss of pregnancy in the first 20 weeks of gestation, and is also known as a “spontaneous abortion” in medical circles. More than 80 percent of miscarriages occur within 12 weeks, and about 10 -20 percent of the pregnancies that are known end in a miscarriage. It is characterized by vaginal spotting or bleeding, which may be accompanied by abdominal pain and cramps. When these symptoms are observed, you must contact your doctor or midwife immediately so they can perform further tests such as an ultrasound scan or a blood test to confirm a miscarriage.
Miscarriage is one of the most common pregnancy complications in the first trimester, and about 50 to 70 percent of them are thought to occur due to chromosomal abnormalities in the fertilized egg, such as wrong number of chromosomes in the egg or the sperm. Sometimes, problems during the critical process of early development can also lead to a miscarriage, such as an embryo with physical defects, or an egg that implants improperly. Factors such as age, chronic disorders, uterine or cervical problems, a history of birth defects, or lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking, and drug abuse are known to increase the risk of miscarriages.
2. Premature Labour and Birth
Premature or preterm labour is when women start having regular contractions that result in the cervix dilating or thinning out (efface) before they reach 37 weeks. A preterm birth is when the baby is delivered before 37 weeks, and it is considered premature. However, going into a preterm labour doesn’t mean the baby would be premature. About half of the women who experience preterm labour go on to deliver at 37 weeks or later. About a third of preterm births are planned, if the mother or the baby have a complication and are not doing well, in cases such as severe preeclampsia or if the baby’s growth has stopped. The medical team then might induce labour early, or perform a C-Section prior to 37 weeks.
The symptoms of preterm birth include:
- Higher-than-usual vaginal discharge
- Leaking watery fluid that is mucous-like, which is bloody or tinged with blood.
- More than four contractions in an hour with or without abdominal pain, menstrual–like cramping
- Pressure in the pelvic region with a feeling that the baby is pushing down
- Low back pain that feels dull or rhythmic, when you didn’t previously have a back pain
Preeclampsia is one of the high-risk pregnancy complications that occurs mostly during the third trimester, but can start at any time after the second half of the pregnancy, or even up to six weeks after delivery. Preeclampsia leads to high blood pressure by causing the blood vessels to constrict and damage vital organs in the body such as kidneys, liver, and brain. The condition may not cause any symptoms in some of the cases, but can be potentially life threatening. Restricted blood flow to the uterus from preeclampsia causes problems such as too little amniotic fluid, poor growth, and placental abruption. The condition can cause small blood vessels to leak fluid into body tissues resulting in a swelling (oedema), and when the tiny blood vessels leak in the kidneys, some of the protein from the blood spills into urine.
The symptoms of preeclampsia include:
- Swelling or puffiness in the face and around the eyes
- Swelling in hands, feet, and ankles
- Gaining more than 2 kg weight in a week (that often results from water retention)
However, not all women with weight gain or swelling have preeclampsia. If you notice symptoms such as severe headache, vision changes, nausea, and vomiting along with the rest of the warning signs, contact your doctor immediately. If the preeclampsia is not controlled, it results in eclampsia, which causes convulsions in the mother.
4. Low Amniotic Fluid (Oligohydramnios)
Amniotic fluid fills up the amniotic sac, which protects and supports the developing baby. Its function is cushioning the baby from impact, maintaining a constant temperature in the womb, protecting against infection, and preventing compression of the umbilical cord, which would reduce the baby’s oxygen supply. Normally, the amount of amniotic fluid increases until the start of the third semester, and after 34 to 36 weeks, it gradually decreases. When there is too little amniotic fluid, the condition is called oligohydramnios. It is measured by an ultrasound scan to check the amniotic fluid index (AFI). In the third semester, a normal measure would be between 5 and 25 cm. Less than 5 cm is considered low. However, practically, 8 cm is the lower limit. Low levels of amniotic fluid can cause foetal abnormalities when it occurs in the first or second trimester. Labour in induced in women who are near term with low amniotic fluid if the baby isn’t thriving well or the mother has preeclampsia.
5. Ectopic Pregnancy
Ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilised egg implants outside the uterus. This condition is potentially dangerous and must be treated immediately. Around 2 percent of pregnancies are ectopic, and since there is no way to transplant an ectopic pregnancy into the uterus, it must be terminated. It occurs when, after conception, the fertilised egg travels down the fallopian tube on its way to the uterus. If the tube is unable to propel the egg toward the womb or is blocked or damaged, the egg might implant there and continue to develop. Since most ectopic pregnancies occur in the fallopian tubes, they are often termed tubal pregnancies. Unrecognized ectopic pregnancies can result in a ruptured fallopian tube causing severe internal bleeding and abdominal pain accompanied with tube damage, tube loss and can be fatal if the bleeding is heavy.
6. Gestational Diabetes
It is one of the most common problems during pregnancy and occurs when a woman who didn’t have diabetes before the pregnancy, develops it during the pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can cause the blood sugar levels to become too high and is a serious problem for the baby. Unlike other types, gestational diabetes isn’t permanent, and the blood sugar levels return to normal after the baby is born. However, it puts a woman at a 25 to 50 percent risk of developing type-2 diabetes later in life. Diet Plan for Gestational Diabetes might be an option worth considering.
7. Placenta Previa
Placenta praevia is a condition in which the placenta is lying unusually low the in the uterus, is next to the cervix or covering it. Placenta under normal conditions is located close to the top of the uterus and supplies the baby with nutrients through the umbilical cord. Although it is not a problem early on in the pregnancy, if it remains dangerously low as the pregnancy progresses, it can cause bleeding and other complications. Ultrasound scans during mid-pregnancy check for the condition and it usually corrects itself in a small percentage of women. The condition occurs in up to 1 in 200 deliveries and since the placenta is close to the cervix, the baby has to be delivered by C-section.
8. Infections During Pregnancy
The baby is well-protected against most passing illnesses by the mother’s body, such as a cold or a stomach bug. But, some diseases can harm both the mother and the baby with consequences such as birth defects in the child. Some of them include:
- Bacterial Vaginosis (BV): Vaginal infection linked to preterm birth and low birth weight in babies
- Group B Strep (GBS): Bacterial infection that can be deadly to the baby if passed during childbirth
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV): Viral infection that leads to hearing and vision loss and other disabilities
- Toxoplasmosis: Parasitic infection when passed from mother to baby leads to vision and hearing loss along with other disabilities
- Urinary tract infections (UTI): Bacterial infections that can cause preterm labour
Although complications are a cause for concern, they are not a cause for despair. Complicated pregnancies, when taken care of and monitored on a regular basis, can turn out well for both the mother and the baby.