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Complications - Illustrated Article

Countless aches, pains, and other physical changes pop up during pregnancy. Most of the time, they are no more than signs of normal pregnancy. But sometimes, physical symptoms can warn of a serious problem. Get educated so you can spot any changes that might be dangerous for you and your baby.

Common Complications
Go to our common complications chart for information on these conditions, their symptoms, and more.

  • Gestational diabetes
  • High-blood Pressure/Pre-eclampsia
  • Hyperemesis gravidarum
  • Placental Abruption
  • Placenta Previa
  • Premature or Pre-term Labor
  • Toxoplasmosis

Premature Labor
Premature or preterm labor is when a woman goes into labor before the 37th week of pregnancy, or three weeks before her due date. The earlier pre-term labor is spotted and treated, the better chance of stopping it. When symptoms go untreated, the cervix may open and cause an early birth of the baby. Premature babies need intensive care in the hospital to help with breathing, feeding, and regulation of body temperature.

Any woman can have pre-term labor, but some women have a higher risk. Problems with the uterus or placenta and a history of pre-term birth with another pregnancy increase the risk of preterm labor. Dehydration also boosts the chances of pre-term labor. So drink plenty of water especially in warm weather and after exercise to keep from becoming dehydrated.

Call your doctor right away if you have any these signs of premature labor:

  • Contractions - You may or may not feel pain, but your abdomen or stomach will get very hard (feel like it is tightening) and then relax, on and off.
  • Menstrual-like cramping- You may or may not be uncomfortable with these cramps that feel like menstrual cramps.
  • Gas-type pains - Sharp pains in your stomach, diarrhea or nausea may be a sign of trouble.
  • Low pelvic pressure - You may feel like the baby is putting a lot of pressure down very low inside.
  • Low backache - You may have a very strong ache in your lower back or could just feel a dull ache in that area.
  • Blood from your vagina - Light spotting or a significant amount of blood should be reported to the doctor right away. Blood can be red or brown in color.
  • Increased discharge from your vagina - Much more discharge than what you are used to during your pregnancy can be a sign of preterm labor. A sudden gush of a lot of water, or a small trickle that is continuous should also be reported to the doctor. Discharge can be watery, pinkish, or brownish in color.

Some Pregnancy Problems without Symptoms
Some health problems you might have during pregnancy do not have warning signs. One of these is Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infection. GBS is a common infection that rarely makes adults sick. The bacterium lives in the gastrointestinal system, along with many other harmless bacteria. Between 10 to 30 percent of pregnant women carry GBS in their vagina and rectums. But, if GBS is passed to the baby during delivery, it can cause serious health problems in your newborn, such as pneumonia, blood infection, or infection of the tissues around the brain.

Because there are no symptoms of GBS, you will be tested at 35 to 37 weeks of pregnancy. The simple test involves swabbing the vagina and rectum for a sample of cells that are sent to a lab to look for GBS. If you are infected, you will be treated with intravenous (IV) antibiotics during labor and delivery to make sure the baby is protected.

Another problem is anemia, or having below-normal levels of iron in the blood. Iron is needed for hemoglobin (a protein in blood that helps take oxygen to body tissues for energy and growth) for you and your baby. Iron also helps build bones and teeth.

Most women do not have any symptoms of anemia. For those who do, extreme fatigue is often the only sign. Your doctor will check for signs of anemia using routine blood tests during different stages of your pregnancy. If you have anemia, you will be given iron supplements. Help prevent anemia by eating lots of iron-rich foods like lean red meat, potatoes with skins, raisins, broccoli, leafy green vegetables, whole-grain breads and iron-fortified cereals.

When to Call the Doctor
When you are pregnant you should not hesitate to call your doctor or midwife if something is bothering or worrying you. Sometimes physical changes can be signs of a problem.

Call your doctor or midwife as soon as you can if you:

  • are bleeding or leaking fluid from the vagina
  • have sudden or severe swelling in the face, hands, or fingers.
  • get severe or long-lasting headaches
  • have discomfort, pain or cramping in the lower abdomen
  • have a fever or chills
  • are vomiting or have persistent nausea
  • feel discomfort, pain or burning with urination
  • have problems seeing or blurred vision
  • feel dizzy
  • sense a change in your baby's movement
  • suspect your baby is moving less than normally after 28 weeks of pregnancy (if you count less than 10 movements in 2 hours or less)

Source: The National Women's Health Information Center
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Office on Women's Health



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