BJC High-risk pregnancies

High-risk pregnancies

What causes a pregnancy to be high risk? From the effects of pre-existing medical conditions to risks that develop during pregnancy, there are several factors that can contribute. Learn what causes a high-risk pregnancy and talk with your doctor about possible pregnancy risks.

What does high-risk pregnancy mean? What determines if a pregnancy is high risk?
High-risk pregnancies fall into three groups. One group is high risk because a woman carries a particular diagnosis or something in her medical history causes her to be high risk – like a previous complicated pregnancy, a kidney or heart transplant or a diagnosis of lupus. The next group is related to the baby; the mother may be pregnant with twins or triplets or an ultrasound may reveal a risk related to the baby. The last group is a complication that develops during the pregnancy such as high blood pressure or gestational diabetes.

What specific factors might contribute to a high-risk pregnancy?
The most common factors of a high-risk pregnancy are diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and other pre-existing medical conditions of the mother. It’s helpful to see a physician prior to becoming pregnant to discuss any increased risks you may have. If there are risks, we can outline a plan so you know what to expect and what additional testing or monitoring we may recommend.

Has care and preparation for high-risk pregnancy improved over the years?
Absolutely. Many patients who were treated for medical conditions in infancy or childhood were told pregnancy would be unlikely or too dangerous. However, with the advancements in medicine and our increased knowledge and understanding, we can tell a vast majority of those patients that it is safe for them to carry a pregnancy and possible to have positive outcomes.

What is a maternal fetal medicine doctor, and who do the typically treat?
A maternal fetal medicine physician cares for women with high-risk pregnancies or women anticipating to become pregnant with high risks. These physicians are trained in obstetrics and gynecology with additional training in advanced ultrasound techniques, complicated deliveries and genetic diagnosis during pregnancy. This sub-specialty also performs some of the procedures for babies before birth.

Alison Cahill, MD, is a Washington University maternal fetal medicine doctor. She will soon begin to see patients at the Progress West Hospital medical office building. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Cahill, please call 314.996.4636, or learn more about obstetrics at