What is a high-risk pregnancy?

high-risk pregnancy is one that threatens the health or life of the mother or her fetus. It often requires specialized care from specially trained providers.

Some pregnancies become high risk as they progress, while some women are at increased risk for complications even before they get pregnant for a variety of reasons.

Early and regular prenatal care helps many women have healthy pregnancies and deliveries without complications.

Risk factors for a high-risk pregnancy can include:

  • Existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or being HIV-positive1
  • Overweight and obesity. 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 one-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 age 35 or older increases the risk for preeclampsia and gestational high blood pressure.5,6

Women with high-risk pregnancies should receive care from a special team of health care providers to ensure the best possible outcomes.

For more information, visit the High-Risk Pregnancy topic.


  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2012). HIV and pregnancy. FAQ113. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/hiv-and-pregnancy external link
  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2015). ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 156: Obesity in pregnancy. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 126(6), e112–126. PMID: 26595582
  3. NIH. (2010). Risk of newborn heart defects increases with maternal obesity [news release]. Retrieved July 30, 2012, from http://www.nih.gov/news/health/apr2010/nichd-07.htm
  4. Hamilton, B. E., Martin, J. A., Osterman, M. J. K., Curtin, S. C., & Mathews, T. J. (2015). Births: Final data for 2014. National Vital Statistics Reports, 64(12). Retrieved May 31, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_12.pdf (PDF – 2.95 MB)
  5. MedlinePlus. (2011). Medical Encyclopedia: Adolescent pregnancy. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000607.htm
  6. MedlinePlus. (2014). Medical Encyclopedia: preeclampsia. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000898.htm
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