Expert Advice

The Difference Between High-Risk Vs. Low-Risk Pregnancy

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Pregnancy and birth are natural processes, right? So when you hear “high risk,” you have to wonder why, and what’s the difference between a high-risk vs. low-risk pregnancy?

Knowing your own status means you can mention it in your birth plan and anticipate how your needs can be met, even under high-risk circumstances.

Most pregnancies are low risk – healthy mom, few or no complications – and frequently allow for your birth preferences to be followed by your team. When your weight, overall health, and age are within safe range – and if you are having just one baby – then both you and babe are pretty much assured of a safe pregnancy and birth.

High risk means that you or your baby’s life could be threatened by complications.



Certain medical issues that already exist, or develop, can change your status from low to high-risk. The usual suspects[1] for a high-risk pregnancy are:

Existing health conditions – including high blood pressure, diabetes, or HIV+ status

High maternal weight (overweight or obese) – more than half of U.S. pregnant women are in this category and need special attention during pregnancy.

Mom’s weight can cause high blood pressure that may lead to heart attacks, strokes, chronic heart disease, or kidney disease[2]. During pregnancy, this can slide into preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, stillbirth, neural tube defects (brain, spine, or spinal cord), and cesarean section delivery.

It can also raise baby’s risk of heart problems at birth.

Multiple births – having more than one bun in the oven (twins, triplets, etc) is higher risk because premature labor is common with multiples. Prematurity can lead to complications for babies at birth. Mom could also develop preeclampsia, which comes with its own set of issues.

Multiple births are usually manageable and have even been born at home. You just have to have the right circumstances and the right care provider.

Maternal age – either very young (teens) or older (35 years+) increases a tendency toward preeclampsia and gestational high blood pressure.

Lifestylesmoking, alcohol, or drug addiction all affect you, but mostly affect your developing baby.

Depending on your circumstances and your care provider, with a high risk pregnancy you may still have a range of options for your health care. If your birth preference is to have a midwife, there are those who accept certain high-risk women.

Usually, with a high-risk pregnancy you’ll be referred to a perinatologist[3] – an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies and can use advanced testing to monitor yours.

Even with a high risk status, your birth plan can promote collaboration between you and your care providers. Your birth plan can help your preferences be considered, as far as health and safety allow. Moms with high-risk pregnancies have stated in their birth plan that they want to give birth in the birthing center, at home, without medical interventions, with a midwife, or without medications. Many of these moms got their wishes because their prenatal care was thorough and they did what was necessary during pregnancy.

When the big day arrives, bring the final version of your birth plan in your hospital bag , work with your care provider to include as much from it as you can, and look forward to gazing into your new baby’s eyes.



To learn more about planning for your high-risk or low-risk pregnancy, download our free Birth Plan eBook now. After three years of research, collaboration with more than 100 childbirth experts and resource centers from Healthy Child Healthy World to the American Association of Neonatal Nurses, the Best Ever Baby Birth Plan Guide is available for a free download.
This new resource for pregnant families is a compilation of top tips and advice from more than 20 nationally-recognized experts in the field including renowned pediatrician, Dr. Alan Greene and the GraceFull Birthing founder, midwife Elizabeth Bachner. These trusted experts offer thoughtful guidance for whatever type of birthing experience parents want, in whichever setting they choose.


Published: August 19, 2015 | Reviewed by: Kim Walls, Natural Products Expert, Elizabeth Bachner, LM, CPM, L.Ac., Midwife | Last reviewed: August, 2015

Kim WallsThe Difference Between High-Risk Vs. Low-Risk Pregnancy

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