The Rise of Pregnancy Complications

Why pregnancy complications have been increasing over the last decade and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic

Pregnancy can be a beautiful and memorable time in a woman's life, but it can also be a time of great stress and anxiety. Many potential complications can arise during pregnancy, and it’s essential to be aware of them to have the best possible outcome for you and your baby.

The recent decline in overall pregnancy health

In the past decade, the overall general health of pregnant women in the U.S. has been in decline. This is due to several factors, including the rising prevalence of obesity and pre-existing health conditions (such as diabetes and hypertension), as well as increasing maternal age. Additionally, pregnancy has become more complicated, with multiple births and premature deliveries also becoming more common.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. maternal mortality rate has more than doubled in the past 30 years, from 7.2 deaths per every 100,000 live births in 1987 to 17.3 death per every 100,000 live births in 2018.

While this trend is alarming, it’s essential to note that maternal mortality rates are still relatively low in developed countries compared to developing countries, where access to quality health care is limited. This recent upward trend in the U.S., however, underscores the need to provide adequate health care to all women, regardless of their location or socioeconomic status.

The 4 most common pregnancy concerns

While most pregnancies proceed without incident, some women experience complications that can threaten their health or the health of their baby.

Below are some of the most common pregnancy concerns that can lead to potential complications for you or your baby.

High blood pressure

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, hypertension is a pregnancy complication that occurs when blood pressure rises above 140/90 mmHg. This can lead to severe complications, such as strokes and kidney damage.

The most common cause of hypertension during pregnancy is preeclampsia, a condition that affects approximately 5 percent of pregnant women. Preeclampsia usually develops after 20 weeks of gestation and can be diagnosed through blood pressure readings and urine tests.

Preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia if left untreated, a life-threatening condition characterized by seizures. Treatment options are available to help manage the condition and reduce the risk of complications.

With proper medical care, most women with preeclampsia will go on to have healthy pregnancies and deliver healthy babies.

Preterm birth

Preterm birth is defined as a pregnancy in which a baby is born alive before 37 weeks of gestation. According to the CDC, preterm birth affected 1 in 10 babies born in the U.S. in 2020. This rate has been fairly stable for the past few years. However, the U.S. preterm birth rate is still higher than in many other developed countries.

There are several possible risk factors of preterm birth, but the cause is unknown in many cases.

Known risk factors include:

  • Smoking or alcohol use

  • Being obese or overweight

  • Certain infections

  • Certain chronic health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure

  • Being under 18 or over 30 years old

  • Being pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets, etc.)

  • Lack of prenatal care

  • Poor diet

  • Certain uterine or cervical issues

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes occurs when the body cannot make enough insulin to process blood sugar during pregnancy. According to the CDC, gestational diabetes affects 2 to 10 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. annually.

Gestational diabetes increases a mother’s risk of developing high blood pressure during pregnancy as well as having a large baby (9 pounds or more), which may require a cesarean section (C-section). While gestational diabetes usually resolves after childbirth, it puts both mother and baby at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Low birth weight

Low birth weight is defined as any baby weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces at delivery. According to the March of Dimes, about 1 in 12 babies born in the U.S. are considered low birth weight. The 2 most common causes of low birth weight are preterm birth and fetal growth restriction.

Babies born with low birth weights are at an increased risk of health problems, including:

  • Intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain)

  • Breathing issues

  • Jaundice
  • Infections

  • Intestinal issues such as necrotizing enterocolitis

How COVID-19 is contributing to complications

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there has been an increase in the number of women experiencing complications during pregnancy. One recent study found that pregnancies during the COVID-19 pandemic were at an increased risk for hypertension, diabetes, preeclampsia, and poor fetal growth, compared to pre-COVID pregnancies.

As a result, it’s essential that all pregnant women receive quality health care and be aware of the signs and symptoms of COVID-19. Pregnant women should also protect themselves from exposure to the virus by avoiding close contact with anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms.

What to do if you’re concerned about health complications during pregnancy

The increase in pregnancy complications over the last decade (and since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in particular), is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. It’s vital that all pregnant mothers receive adequate prenatal care to ensure the health and safety of themselves and their babies.

If you’re currently pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, contact one of the experienced OB-GYNs at All About Women Obstetrics & Gynecology in Gainesville, Florida. We’re always available to answer your questions, discuss your concerns, and help you through every step of your pregnancy journey. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.