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What is a high-risk pregnancy?

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A high-risk pregnancy is one that threatens the health or life of the mother or her fetus.

For most women, early and regular prenatal care promotes a healthy pregnancy and delivery without complications. But some women are at an increased risk for complications even before they get pregnant for a variety of reasons.

Risk factors for a high-risk pregnancy can include:

  • Existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or being HIV-positive.1
  • Overweight and obesity. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, more than half of all pregnant women in the United States are overweight or obese.2 Obesity increases the risk for high blood pressure, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, stillbirth, neural tube defects, and cesarean delivery. NICHD researchers have found that obesity can raise infants' risk of heart problems at birth by 15%.3
  • Multiple births. The risk of complications is higher in women carrying more than one fetus (twins and higher-order multiples). Common complications include preeclampsia, premature labor, and preterm birth. More than half of all twins and as many as 93% of triplets are born at less than 37 weeks’ gestation.4
  • Young or old maternal age. Pregnancy in teens and women aged 35 or over increases the risk for preeclampsia and gestational high blood pressure.5

Women with high-risk pregnancies should receive care from a special team of health care providers to ensure that their pregnancies are healthy and that they can carry their infant or infants to term.

For more information on high-risk pregnancy, visit the High-Risk Pregnancy topic.

  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). FAQs: HIV and pregnancy. Retrieved July 30, 2012, from External Web Site Policy (PDF - 279 KB) [top]
  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2013). Committee Opinion: Obesity in Pregnancy. Retrieved March 19, 2013, from External Web Site Policy [top]
  3. NIH. (2010). Risk of newborn heart defects increases with maternal obesity [news release]. Retrieved July 30, 2012, from [top]
  4. Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. (n.d.). High-risk pregnancy care, research, and education for over 35 years. Retrieved August 1, 2012, from External Web Site Policy (PDF - 726 KB) [top]
  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2011). Teenage pregnancy. Retrieved August 1, 2012, from External Web Site Policy [top]

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