Maternal Conditions & Pregnancy

Femme enceinte qui se fait prendre la pression artérielle
Some chronic illnesses in the mother can complicate pregnancy and pose a threat to the unborn baby. It is important to get these conditions under control before becoming pregnant. In some cases, a change in treatment may be needed before pregnancy begins, because some medications are harmful to the developing baby.

Asthma is one of the most common serious medical conditions that can complicate pregnancy. When a pregnant mother has trouble breathing, her unborn baby has problems receiving all the oxygen he needs. Severe asthma can increase the risk of certain complications with the baby. The risks of these complications can be reduced if asthma is well controlled.

Cancer is a disease where a cell type grows out of control, forming a tumour that can spread to other parts of the body. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women of reproductive age, and cervical cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in pregnancy. Cancer and its surgery are not known to affect the baby. However, chemotherapy can cause birth defects, and therefore its use may be delayed until after the baby is old enough to be delivered.

Pregnancy in women with diabetes is considered high-risk. Gestational diabetes is diabetes that first arises during pregnancy. If diabetes is not properly controlled during pregnancy, there is an increased chance of miscarriage, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and birth defects. However, with scrupulous medical guidance and self-care during pregnancy, these complications can be greatly reduced.

Anorexia and bulimia are psychological illnesses that cause sufferers to become obsessed with being thin. Laxatives and water pills can damage the developing baby and should not be taken during pregnancy. Malnutrition of the unborn baby can lead to poor fetal growth and low birth weight.

Epilepsy is a group of neurological conditions characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. Pregnancy may complicate epilepsy by making a woman more prone to seizures. Also, some medications used to treat epilepsy may have potential to harm the developing baby. If you are pregnant and have epilepsy, you need to be aware of the potential complications. Keep in mind, however, that it is safer to be seizure-free on medication than to be having seizures with no medication.

Pregnancy has a profound effect in women who have underlying heart disease. During pregnancy, the volume of blood in the mother’s body increases dramatically to meet the needs of the growing baby. As a result, the heart has to work that much harder to pump blood through the mother’s body. The outcome for a pregnant mother with heart disease depends on the capacity of her heart, whether there are other complications during pregnancy, and what type of medical care she receives. For some women, bed rest may be required throughout pregnancy.

Other chronic illnesses that can affect pregnancy include phenylketonuria, sickle cell anemia, systemic lupus erythematosus, thalassemia, and thyroid problems. Again, it is important to get these conditions under control before becoming pregnant.

Nicolette Caccia, MEd, MD, FRCSC

Rory Windrim, MB, MSc, FRCSC