What Is Considered a High-Risk Pregnancy?

Mom holding pregnant belly

A high-risk pregnancy is one that threatens the health or life of the pregnant woman, her unborn baby or both. A high-high risk pregnancy can result from a medical condition that exists before pregnancy or emerges during pregnancy. Regardless, a high-risk pregnancy can pose health risks to the mother and child during pregnancy or delivery, or after the baby is born.

Protect yourself and your baby by understanding the risk factors for high-risk pregnancy and, if you believe you are at high risk, seek appropriate care. It is also important that you and your family are aware of urgent maternal warning signs that can occur during and up to a year after pregnancy.

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase your risk of complications during or after pregnancy. While some of these conditions may develop as you age, they can impact your pregnancy risk regardless of your age.

  • Advanced maternal age (age 35 years or older)
  • Race and ethnicity. Black women are more than three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications as white women, and Native American women are more than twice as likely, regardless of their income or education. Read about what Memorial Hermann is doing to help reduce and ultimately eliminate these racial and ethnic disparities.
  • Maternal health problems, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), blood clotting disorders, obesity, diabetes, epilepsy, cancer, thyroid disease, poorly controlled asthma, connective tissue disorders and infections
  • Lifestyle choices, such as smoking, alcohol consumption and drug use during pregnancy
  • Pregnancy complications, such as low fetal growth for gestational age, unusual placenta position and rhesus (Rh) sensitization, a condition that can occur when your blood group is Rh negative and your baby’s blood group is Rh positive
  • Multiple pregnancy (carrying more than one fetus)
  • Pregnancy history, including a history of pregnancy-related conditions, such a high blood pressure/preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, premature delivery, postpartum hemorrhage, or multiple miscarriages or procedures to end pregnancy
  • Gynecological history with surgical interventions, such as procedures to treat endometriosis
  • Social factors, such as lack of support or help at home, or financial concerns.

Conditions That Can Develop During Pregnancy

While some high-risk pregnancies result from a medical condition present before a woman becomes pregnant, other medical conditions can develop during pregnancy, posing a risk to either you or your baby. Some examples include:

Conditions That Can Develop After Delivery

Even if a woman’s pregnancy and delivery go smoothly, she may develop pregnancy-related complications for up to a year after giving birth. The most common postpartum conditions are:

  • Excessive bleeding after childbirth (postpartum hemorrhage)
  • Postpartum depression
  • Headaches that worsen over time

Urgent Maternal Warning Signs

One of the things you can do to protect yourself and your unborn baby during pregnancy is to be aware that something may be wrong and act on it. While most pregnancies turn out just fine, complications can occur. And some complications can happen for up to a year after your baby is born.

Below is a list of common warning signs and symptoms of pregnancy related problems, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It’s also a good idea to make your family aware of these warning signs, so they can help you look out for them as well.

  • Headache that won’t go away or gets worse over time
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Thoughts about hurting yourself or your baby
  • Changes in your vision
  • Fever
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain or fast-beating heart
  • Severe belly pain that doesn’t go away
  • Severe nausea and throwing up (not like morning sickness)
  • Baby’s movements stopping or slowing
  • Vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking during pregnancy
  • Vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking after pregnancy
  • Swelling, redness or pain of your leg
  • Extreme swelling of your hands or face
  • Overwhelming tiredness

If you have any of these symptoms during or after pregnancy, contact your healthcare provider and get help right away. This list is not meant to cover everything you might be experiencing. If you feel like something just isn’t right, tell your doctor.

If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Remember to say that you’re pregnant or have been pregnant within the last year.

Take Action Now

If you believe you are at high risk for pregnancy related complications, talk to your doctor about how to manage your risk factors, including your existing health conditions. If you need to establish a relationship with a prenatal care provider, call (713) 222-CARE or Find a Doctor.

Be honest with your doctor about your medical history. Keep your doctor informed of any new conditions or concerns that arise throughout your pregnancy. And be sure to keep all of your scheduled appointments, both before and after delivery.

Why Choose Memorial Hermann?

Memorial Hermann is dedicated to providing specialized care for patients—both moms and their babies—before, during and after delivery.

The maternal-fetal medicine physicians affiliated with Memorial Hermann offer advanced care for women with high-risk pregnancy conditions and for babies diagnosed with fetal anomalies. Memorial Hermann has the ability to offer patients direct access to high-risk pregnancy clinics close to home, conveniently located across the Greater Houston area.

The Women’s Center at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, part of Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, provides advanced level care for high-risk maternal patients. Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital has been designated a Level IV Maternal Facility by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the highest designation awarded by the DSHS, and has a Level IV neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the highest level of care available for premature and critically ill newborns, as designated by the DSHS.

Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital is also home to The Fetal Center at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, a national referral center and international leader in fetal diagnosis, fetal intervention and comprehensive fetal care for infants with congenital anomalies or genetic abnormalities. In collaboration with pediatric subspecialists at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, the affiliated team offers patients a complete range of prenatal testing and fetal interventions, with a coordinated program for mothers and their babies before, during and after birth.

Pregnant woman

Women’s and Children’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives


Memorial Hermann Maternal Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council was formed to fully understand the severe maternal morbidity problem and to identify and begin to address the underlying causes.

Learn More

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