Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

Pregnancy Complications

Complications of pregnancy can be divided into two groups:

  • Minor complications
  • Serious complications

Minor complications are common during pregnancy. Fortunately, serious complications are rare. Regular prenatal care is effective in detecting, controlling, and preventing many pregnancy complications.

Risk factors for serious complications of pregnancy include:

Pregnancy Minor Complications

Minor complications of pregnancy include:

Pregnancy Serious Breech Delivery

Normally, around the eighth month, a baby is positioned in the uterus in the head-down position. This position, called vertex, allows a baby to be delivered head-first. More than 96 out of 100 babies are born vertex. Some babies are positioned in the uterus feet-first or buttocks-first: these positions are called breech.

There are three main types of breech position:

  • Frank breech:
    • The infant's hips are flexed and the knees are extended, with the feet near the shoulders. The infant's buttocks are delivered through the birth canal first.
  • Incomplete breech:
    • One, or both, of the infant's hips are flexed. One, or both, of the infant's legs are delivered through the birth canal first.
  • Complete Breech:
    • Both of the infant's knees are flexed rather than extended. The infant's buttocks are delivered through the birth canal first.

If your baby is breech, your doctor may be able to turn the baby by pressing on your abdomen. If this is not successful, there are some other things the doctor can try to turn the baby internally. The combination of preterm labor and a breech baby almost always warrants a c-section.

Pregnancy Serious Complications

Serious complications of pregnancy include:

Pregnancy Serious Gestational Diabetes

Diabetes occurs when a woman's body doesn't make enough insulin. This is the hormone that helps the body process sugar into energy.

Diabetes that occurs during pregnancy is called gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes usually begins between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. The diagnosis can only be made in women with no evidence for diabetes prior to pregnancy. About 1 or 2 out of every 100 pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes.

Risk factors for gestational diabetes include:

Gestational diabetes can be controlled with a balanced diet and careful weight control during pregnancy. Exercise can help to control blood sugar levels. If diet and weight control does not control the condition, insulin injections may be necessary. Gestational diabetes disappears after the baby is born.

Pregnancy Serious High Blood Pressure

A less common cause of high blood pressure is pregnancy-induced hypertension. This is a form of high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy.

Facts about hypertension in pregnancy:

  • Pregnant women with a blood pressure over 135/80 should notify the doctor.
  • A blood pressure that is over 140/90 is too high.
  • High blood pressure in pregnancy is linked to preeclampsia.

Pregnancy Serious Miscarriage

A miscarriage is the unexpected loss of the fetus from the uterus before the middle part of pregnancy.

Facts about miscarriage:

  • Three out of every four miscarriages occur in the first three months of pregnancy, usually between the 7th and 12th weeks.
  • Miscarriages are very common in pregnancy.
  • Some experts believe as many as 1 in every 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage.
  • Reasons for miscarriage include:
    • Genetic problems
    • Problems inside the uterus or cervix
    • Defective egg or sperm
    • Maternal hormone imbalance

Pregnancy Serious Morning Sickness

Hyperemesis gravidarum is a severe form of morning sickness that is most common during the first 3 months of pregnancy. It is related to the high level of hormones that are present in the mother's bloodstream during pregnancy.

In most cases, hyperemesis gravidarum causes only mild nausea with occasional vomiting. However, severe cases can result in dehydration and malnutrition. If left untreated, this can trigger a miscarriage.

Pregnancy Serious Placenta Previa

The placenta is the organ that connects a mother to her unborn child or fetus. The placenta transfers oxygen and other nutrients from the mother's bloodstream to the fetus. It also carries waste products away from the fetus.

Normally, the fertilized ovum implants itself in the upper portion of the uterus. If the implantation occurs in a lower position in the uterus (toward the opening of the uterus, called the cervix), there is a possibility that the placenta will grow and eventually block the cervix. When this occurs, it is referred to as placenta previa.

The condition is highly variable since the placenta may only partially block the cervix, or it may completely cover it. During normal labor, the cervix opens up (dilates) to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal. In the setting of placenta previa, the process of cervical dilation can cause the placenta to tear and bleed.

Placenta previa can be a serious cause of vaginal bleeding in women who are 24 to 28 weeks pregnant. It may occur anytime after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Pregnancy Serious Placental Abruption

Placental abruption is caused by the premature separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus. Placental abruption is seen in the third trimester of pregnancy, after 25 weeks gestation. When this problem occurs, it is considered an emergency. The incidence of placental abruption in the US is less than 1 percent.

Risk factors for placental abruption include:

Pregnancy Serious Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a sudden elevation in blood pressure after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Symptoms of preeclampsia include:

Less common symptoms of preeclampsia include:

Facts about preeclampsia:

Pregnancy Serious Premature Labor

A woman with premature labor experiences labor before a baby is fully developed inside the womb. Although premature labor can occur at any time during the pregnancy, most cases occur after the 20th week of gestation.

Premature labor occurs in approximately 11 out of every 100 pregnancies.

Warning signs of premature labor include:

Continue to Pregnancy Anatomy

Last Updated: Jul 7, 2009 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
Copyright DSHI Systems, Inc. Powered by: FreeMD - Your Virtual Doctor

PubMed Pregnancy References
  1. Blenning CE, Paladine H. An approach to the postpartum office visit. Am Fam Physician. 2005 Dec 15;72(12):2491-6. [16370405]
  2. Condous GS, Arulkumaran S. Medical and conservative surgical management of postpartum hemorrhage. J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2003 Nov;25(11):931-6. [14608443]
  3. Magann EF, Evans S, Hutchinson M, Collins R, Lanneau G, Morrison JC. Postpartum hemorrhage after cesarean delivery: an analysis of risk factors. South Med J. 2005 Jul;98(7):681-5. [16108235]
  4. Malamitsi-Puchner A, Boutsikou T. Adolescent pregnancy and perinatal outcome. Pediatr Endocrinol Rev. 2006 Jan;3 Suppl 1:170-1. [16641854]
  5. Nanda K, Peloggia A, Grimes D, Lopez L, Nanda G. Expectant care versus surgical treatment for miscarriage. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Apr 19;(2):CD003518. [16625583]
  6. Ozkaya O, Sezik M, et al. Placebo-controlled randomized comparison of vaginal with rectal misoprostol in the prevention of postpartum hemorrhage. J Obstet Gynaecol Res. 2005 Oct;31(5):389-93. [16176505]
  7. Tierney JP, Welsh J, Owen P; Effective Gynaecology in Glasgow Group. Management of early pregnancy loss--a complete audit cycle. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2006 Apr;26(3):229-32. [16736559]
  8. Vitzthum VJ, Spielvogel H, Thornburg J, West B. A prospective study of early pregnancy loss in humans. Fertil Steril. 2006 Aug;86(2):373-9. [16806213]
FreeMD is provided for information purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for evaluation and treatment by a physician. Please review our terms of use.