Although most pregnancies will be complication free, it is always worth being in the know when it comes to certain pregnancy-specific medical conditions. This way, at least you are aware of the signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for as well as what to do if any unexpected situations arise.
It’s worth mentioning that it won’t just be down to you to pick up on any possible problems! Rest assured, your midwife or GP will constantly be on the alert for any complications throughout your pregnancy and will pick up on anything slightly out of the ordinary during routine check-ups, appointments and tests, physical exams and scans. But, if you do notice any symptoms which don’t seem quite right then do share any worries or concerns with them, big or small.
Here are some of the most common possible complications which can affect mums-to-be:
A miscarriage is the term used to describe a loss of pregnancy in the first 23 weeks. Signs can be vaginal spotting or bleeding, cramping or fluid or tissue passing from the vagina. If your doctor suspects a miscarriage, they will very quickly ensure that an ultrasound scan is carried out to see what’s going on in your uterus.
However, spotting or bleeding during pregnancy is not uncommon in early pregnancy and some causes are not related to the pregnancy at all, and instead come from the vagina or cervix.
Saying that, any bleeding during pregnancy should never be taken lightly so always consult your GP or midwife if you notice bleeding at any point.
This is a serious condition which is completely unique to pregnancy. The cause is unknown, but it is thought that something in the placenta triggers the release of chemicals that cause a mother’s blood pressure to rise and make the kidneys become leaky so that protein starts to show in the urine. It is thought that certain women are more at risk of developing the condition if:
- It is your first pregnancy
- You are aged 35 or over
- You have experienced preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy
- You are overweight or obese
- You have existing high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease
Most expectant mothers who get pre-eclampsia develop symptoms quite close to their due date and these symptoms might consist of severe headaches, flashing lights or blurred vision, burning pain below the breastbone, vomiting and sudden swelling of the face, hands or ankles. Although symptoms are often mild, pre-eclampsia can progress quickly to become potentially dangerous as it can affect your organs and, in very severe cases be life-threatening. If you are experiencing symptoms, you will need to be admitted to hospital for treatment which may include medications to lower blood pressure as well as discussions about potentially delivering your baby early, so as to prevent progression into eclampsia which is a condition where you can experience fitting/having a seizure due to very high maternal blood pressure.
It sounds scary but please don’t panic as your doctors and midwives are always on the alert for this and it explains why you need to have your blood pressure and urine checked at every antenatal appointment.
This is when a mum-to-be develops diabetes in pregnancy when she didn’t have diabetes before.
Normally, your body digests parts of your food into a sugar called glucose which is your body’s main source of energy. To ensure that your body moves this glucose from your blood to your body’s cells, your pancreas makes the hormone insulin.
So far, so normal. However, in gestational diabetes, hormonal changes from pregnancy cause the body to either not make enough insulin, or not use it as it would normally. Instead, the glucose builds up in your blood, causing diabetes, otherwise known as high blood sugar.
You are more likely to develop gestational diabetes if you are obese or if you have a family origin with high diabetic frequency e.g. South Asian, black Caribbean or Middle Eastern.
If you develop gestational diabetes, you will be closely monitored by your healthcare provider and offered a treatment plan, but most women will be able to keep their blood sugar levels under control simply through diet and exercise. However, if not addressed it can cause harm to your baby and can even lead to high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure during pregnancy is known as gestational hypertension and it occurs when your arteries are narrowed while they are doing the important task of carrying blood from the heart to your body’s organs.
As you can imagine, this ‘narrowing’ causes pressure to build in your arteries. In pregnancy, this can be particularly problematic as it makes it difficult for blood to reach the placenta which is providing oxygen and key nutrients to your baby.
A reduced blood flow can slow the growth of your baby and can also increase the risk of pre-eclampsia and even premature labour.
If you do develop high blood pressure then don’t worry as your healthcare provider will be on the case in monitoring this and they will provide with you with a treatment plan too. The good news is that gestation hypertension can often be easily managed through exercise and eating a balanced diet. And, even more good news is that typically this will only develop in the second half of your pregnancy and your blood pressure will go back to normal once you’ve delivered your little bundle of joy.
Premature labour & birth
Premature labour is when you start having regular contractions that cause your cervix to dilate before you reach 37 weeks of pregnancy. The NHS cite the stat that about 8 out of 100 babies will be born prematurely so it isn’t uncommon.
Call your midwife or maternity unit if as well as regular contractions, you’re experiencing any indications that your waters might be breaking, period-type pains, backache and a ‘show’ which is when the mucus lining (which has sealed the cervix during a pregnancy) breaks away and comes out of the vagina. Your midwife or doctor will then examine you to determine if you are in fact going into labour. Every situation will be different as it really will depend on how many weeks pregnant you are, but you might be offered medicine to slow down or stop your labour as well as corticosteroid injections to help your baby’s lungs. However, in some circumstances slowing down or stopping the labour simply won’t be appropriate but your midwife or doctor will be able to explain the process of pre-term labour and next steps.
A baby born before 37 weeks will naturally be slightly more vulnerable and have a greater risk of developing certain health problems because their organs such as the brain and lungs finish their development in the final weeks before the expected due date. Babies are considered ‘viable’ at 24 weeks of pregnancy which means that they can survive if born this early, however, depending on how early they are born will have an impact on how much care they will need in a specialist hospital or neonatal unit.
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