High-Risk Pregnancies | OB-GYN


High-Risk Pregnancies

Our maternal fetal medicine specialists provide expert care for you and your baby throughout your pregnancy. We’re here for you, 24/7.

Medically reviewed by Herman Hedriana, M.D. on June 30, 2023.

Pregnant mother and young daughter walking and holding hands.

High-Risk Pregnancy Care

A high-risk pregnancy poses a greater chance of complications for either you or your baby. These complications may affect your own health, the baby’s growth or cause birth anomalies (differences in the structure of your baby’s body).

To keep you and your baby as safe as possible, a maternal fetal medicine (MFM) specialist oversees your pregnancy, labor and delivery.

At UC Davis Health, our MFM team is available 24/7 to provide advanced care for you and your baby. We also have a level 4 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) that offers complete medical and surgical care for newborns.


Symptoms of High-Risk Pregnancy Complications

You may not experience any symptoms during a high-risk pregnancy. If you develop complications, your symptoms will vary depending on your condition. 

Common Symptoms

Contact your health care provider if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Baby’s movements have slowed
  • Blurred or double vision, dizziness or faintness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fever
  • Increased heart rate
  • Persistent headache not relieved by medication
  • Swelling in your face or hands

Emergency Symptoms

Seek immediate care if you have any of the following:

  • Baby’s movements have stopped
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Strong abdominal pain
  • Thoughts of self-harm or of harming your baby
  • Vaginal bleeding similar to a menstrual period

High-Risk Pregnancy Causes

You may have a high-risk pregnancy due to pre-existing medical conditions or because your baby has life-threatening condition.  Complications that develop during your pregnancy can also be considered high risk.

Conditions That Develop During Pregnancy

Sometimes, complications with your health or the health of your baby arise during pregnancy. You may experience gestational diabetes, multiple gestation (twins, triplets or more) or high blood pressure (hypertension) and develop preeclampsia. Your baby could develop a genetic condition, medical condition or birth anomaly.

Pre-Existing Medical Conditions

Some existing medical conditions can cause a high-risk pregnancy. These include autoimmune diseases, diabetes, high blood pressure, HIV/AIDS, kidney disease, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and thyroid disorders.


Risk Factors for High-Risk Pregnancy

Some factors increase your chances of a high-risk pregnancy. However, they don’t always guarantee your pregnancy will be high risk.


There is a higher risk for complications if your first pregnancy occurs when you are 35 or older. Possible complications include Cesarean delivery, genetic disorders like Down syndrome, gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.

Pregnancy during teenage years can also increase your risk. Teenagers who are pregnant face a higher risk for anemia, high blood pressure and preterm births.

Alcohol Use

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, miscarriage, stillbirth and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) have been linked to alcohol use during pregnancy.

Drug Use

Using marijuana or illegal drugs during pregnancy increases the risk of a stillborn birth. Drug use can also cause issues with your baby’s brain development.


Obesity is linked to complications including gestational diabetes, larger birth weight and fetal heart conditions. You also have a higher risk of developing sleep apnea during pregnancy.

Previous Preterm Birth

You are at a higher risk of repeat preterm birth if you previously delivered a baby before 37 weeks of pregnancy.


Smoking increases the risk of birth anomalies, preterm birth, slowing down of the baby’s growth before birth and SIDS.


Diagnosing High-Risk Pregnancies

Our obstetrics care team uses advanced diagnostic testing to monitor your pregnancy, test for pregnancy-related conditions and prevent complications.

Your provider may diagnose a high-risk pregnancy based on your medical history and pre-existing conditions. You may also be diagnosed due to symptoms you experience while pregnant or the results of diagnostic tests and screenings. These tests include:

Blood pressure testing

This monitors you for preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy). Normal blood pressure in pregnancy should be below 140/90. Preeclampsia can lead to life-threatening complications like eclampsia, which can cause seizures and coma.

Birth anomaly screenings

Your provider may recommend an ultrasound or amniocentesis during your pregnancy. These tests check for health conditions like Down syndrome and spina bifida.

Gestational diabetes test

This checks to see if you develop high blood sugar during your pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can lead to complications like high blood pressure and preterm birth.

Prenatal panel

This set of blood tests checks for conditions that can affect your pregnancy, like rubella, hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and anemia.

Rh factor and antibody screen

This test determines if you are Rh positive or negative and if you have antibodies against other blood groups. If you are Rh positive and your first baby is born with a different Rh factor, you will need medication for Rh incompatibility (Rhogam). Rh incompatibility can affect future pregnancies.

Treatments Options for High-Risk Pregnancies

Early treatment of pregnancy-related conditions helps protect you and your baby. Our maternal fetal medicine specialists have received specialized training to treat a variety of complications that may arise during pregnancy.

Your treatment options will depend on your risk factors and condition. They may include:

Additional Diagnostic Tests

You may need continued diagnostic tests like ultrasounds to monitor your baby’s growth and development throughout your pregnancy.

Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring (Nonstress Test)

If you have a condition that may affect your baby’s health, your provider may recommend nonstress tests during your pregnancy. During this test, a monitor is attached to your belly to track your baby’s heartbeat.


Your provider may prescribe medications to treat infections or manage thyroid or blood sugar levels.

Surgical Delivery

A vaginal delivery is always preferred but you may need a surgical delivery (Cesarean section) if vaginal delivery is not possible.


Preventing a High-Risk Pregnancy

Adopting certain healthy lifestyle habits before and during pregnancy can help prevent some high-risk pregnancy complications. These include: 

  • Avoiding alcohol and drug use
  • Avoiding exposure to infections
  • Getting prenatal care
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and eating habits
  • Managing health conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Stopping smoking
  • Using safe sex practices

High-risk pregnancies

15%Of pregnancies develop a serious complication

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