Pregnancy Complications | OB-GYN


Pregnancy Complications

When problems arise during pregnancy, our experienced specialists provide rapid, coordinated care and support.

Medically reviewed by Herman Hedriana, M.D. on Sep. 05, 2023.

Female doctor and a pregnant woman during ultrasound exam in the hospital

Compassionate Care for Your Unique Situation

A complication during pregnancy can cause distress during a time that should be exciting and hopeful. But having an experienced medical team on your side can help ease your fears.

At UC Davis Health, our obstetrician-gynecologists (OB-GYNs) provide education, care and support before, during and after pregnancy. When complications arise, our maternal fetal medicine team delivers expert consultations and a personalized treatment plan.


What Complications Can Occur During Pregnancy?

Pregnancy complications can occur due to a medical condition you had before pregnancy. They can also develop while you are pregnant. Pregnancy complications can happen even if you’re healthy.

Some common pregnancy complications include:

  • Anemia: The amount of blood in your body increases during pregnancy. If you don’t have enough iron to make red blood cells, you may develop anemia.
  • Depression and anxiety: Mental health issues can happen any time during or after pregnancy. Treatment can improve your pregnancy and parenting experience.
  • Gestational diabetes: Diabetes affects your ability to control the level of sugar in your blood. Hormone changes during pregnancy can cause gestational diabetes.
  • High blood pressure and preeclampsia: Hypertension (high blood pressure) during and before pregnancy can prevent blood flow to your baby. Preeclampsia is a serious condition where you have ongoing high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Infections: Infections can be dangerous to you and your baby. Talk to your provider about steps you can take to prevent infections during pregnancy.
  • Hyperemesis gravidarum: Morning sickness is common during the first three months of pregnancy. Hyperemesis gravidarum is severe and ongoing nausea and vomiting that prevent you from getting enough food and water.
  • Placental problems: Your placenta is the tissue that passes blood between you and your baby. Problems can occur if your placenta blocks your uterus opening (placenta previa), separates from the uterine wall (placental abruption) or if the placenta is sticking to your old cesarean scar (accreta).

Your baby can also develop problems during pregnancy, such as:

  • Congenital abnormalities: Congenital abnormalities are differences in your baby’s body or how it functions. They develop very early in pregnancy.
  • Fetal anemia: Fetal anemia happens when your baby doesn’t have enough red blood cells because something is affecting their formation.
  • Fetal growth restriction (FGR): An unborn baby with FGR is very small for the age of the pregnancy.

Symptoms of Pregnancy Complications

The signs of pregnancy complications vary depending on the type of problem. If you feel like something isn’t right, let your provider know. Early diagnosis and treatment can help increase your chance of having a healthy baby.

Common Symptoms

Paying attention to how you feel during pregnancy is important. Some symptoms are normal, such as queasiness and slight swelling in your hands and face. Call your provider if you experience:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps or contractions with bleeding
  • Feeling faint or passing out
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath

Emergency Symptoms

Some symptoms during or after pregnancy may be warning signs that something is wrong with you or your baby. Seek emergency medical care if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Arm or leg pain, redness or swelling
  • Baby movement slows or stops
  • Chest pain or a fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extreme swelling of your face or hands
  • Fainting or ongoing dizziness
  • Fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Intense fatigue
  • Severe headache that doesn’t go away
  • Severe nausea and vomiting that prevents you from eating or drinking
  • Sharp pain or cramping in your abdomen
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Vaginal bleeding (like a period) or leaking fluid
  • Sudden blurring or double vision changes

Causes and Risk Factors of Pregnancy Complications

The causes of pregnancy complications vary widely. They may be related to medical conditions, health habits or your family history. In many cases, the cause is unknown.

There are some factors that may increase the risk of pregnancy complications, such as:


The risk of complications, especially gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, increases as you get older. Also, increasing age comes with higher possibility of abnormal chromosomes in the babies.

Family History

Some pregnancy complications, such as congenital abnormalities, run in families.


Health care providers consider pregnancies with twins, triplets or more high risk.

Pre-Pregnancy Health Conditions

Having diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity before you become pregnant can increase your chance of complications.

Previous Pregnancy Complications or Pregnancy Loss

Your risk of complications is higher if you’ve had past problems during pregnancy like giving birth too early (preterm birth).

Unhealthy Behaviors

Smoking, drinking alcohol and drug use during pregnancy can affect the health of your baby.


Diagnosing Pregnancy Complications

Your health care provider may diagnose a pregnancy complication during routine prenatal screening and genetic testing or after you have symptoms.

Tests providers use to diagnose pregnancy complications include:

  • Blood pressure test to find out if you have high blood pressure or preeclampsia
  • Blood tests to check for problems, such as anemia, diabetes and some infections
  • Ultrasound imaging to look at your placenta and your baby’s development

Preventing Pregnancy Complications

You can’t always prevent pregnancy complications, but staying healthy can decrease your risk. Knowing what to eat and what to avoid during pregnancy can be hard to figure out. Your health care provider is your best resource for this information.

Tips our experts suggest for a safe and healthy pregnancy include:

  • Avoid harmful substances, including alcohol, smoking, drugs, dangerous chemicals and organisms that cause infections
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and take a daily prenatal vitamin
  • Exercise safely
  • Get regular prenatal care
  • Manage your health conditions before and during pregnancy
  • Start pregnancy at a healthy weight and gain the right amount of weight during pregnancy
  • Talk to your health care provider right away if something doesn’t feel right

High-Risk Pregnancy Care at UC Davis Health

At UC Davis Health, you and your baby receive care from highly trained specialists. Our high-risk pregnancy team includes maternal fetal medicine physicians, maternal fetal radiologists (imaging specialists), fetal surgeons, fetal cardiologists, neonatologists (newborn specialists), genetic counselors, neonatal hospice, dietitians and social workers. They work together seamlessly and quickly to provide:

Personalized Treatment Planning

Regardless of the pregnancy complication, our physicians create customized plans for pregnancy, delivery and newborn care. These plans include a monitoring schedule during pregnancy, the type and timing of delivery, and special care for your baby after birth. Although pregnancy care is centered on the mother and the baby, if necessary, our care team will guide non-directed decision making where either the mother or the baby is at risk in continuing the pregnancy.

Meet our maternal fetal medicine team
Expert Fetal Care and Treatment

We offer comprehensive fetal care services that range from diagnosing fetal conditions to state-of-the-art surgical and minimally invasive treatments.

Learn more about our Fetal Care and Treatment Center
First-Class Birth Center

When it comes time to deliver your baby, our birth center is ready for you. You receive care from labor and delivery teams with uncommon expertise in high-risk deliveries. Our birthing care includes advocacy for your care provided by a bedside nurse and/or doula where one is desired.

Explore our birth center
Advanced Neonatal Intensive Care

Our level 4 UC Davis Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) provides the highest level of care for babies born prematurely or with serious health conditions. Features of our NICU include advanced equipment and family-centered support services.

Find out more about our NICU

Who does it affect?

17%Of women experience pregnancy complications

Effect of age on pregnancy complications

23%Of women ages 34-44 experience pregnancy complications

Gaps in prenatal care

1/3Of women don’t receive the recommended number of prenatal visits

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