Pregnancy Complications

woman with female doctor
There are a number of complications that can occur during pregnancy. Many of these complications can affect the health of the mother and the developing fetus, if they are not properly managed throughout the pregnancy.

Nausea and vomiting, commonly referred to as “morning sickness,” is usually mild or moderate. Nausea and vomiting usually starts between weeks four and seven of pregnancy, and continues for much of the first trimester. Some women may experience a severe form of nausea and vomiting called hyperemesis gravidarum. This condition does not appear to have an adverse effect on the outcome of pregnancy or the baby’s health as long as the mother can keep hydrated.

The terms spontaneous abortion and miscarriage both refer to loss of a baby within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Any vaginal bleeding during the first half of pregnancy is assumed to be a threatened miscarriage. By far the most common reason for miscarriage is a problem with the development of the unborn baby.

One of the main concerns during the first few weeks of pregnancy is the risk of an ectopic pregnancy. If the fertilized egg cell implants itself in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus, it may start to grow in the fallopian tube. If this happens and is allowed to continue, the growing set of cells will eventually rupture the tube, causing severe pain in the side of the mother's abdomen, vaginal bleeding, and sometimes fainting.

Rhesus (Rh) factor is a group of proteins that occurs on the surface of the red blood cells. If you have Rh factor on your red blood cells, you are referred to as Rh-positive. If you do not have Rh factor, you are Rh-negative. Rhesus incompatibility is when an Rh-negative mother becomes pregnant with an Rh-positive baby. If the unborn baby’s Rh-positive red blood cells cross the placenta and reach the mother, her immune system will produce antibodies that will destroy the baby’s red blood cells. This is the cause of a complication called Rh hemolytic disease in the unborn baby.

Pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH) is high blood pressure during pregnancy. There are three major signs of PIH: high blood pressure, protein in your urine, and retaining fluid. Other signs that may occur are headaches, blurred vision, nausea, abdominal pain, jumpy reflexes, and decreased amounts of urine. When PIH happens it is usually during the last three months of pregnancy.  The symptoms usually go away following birth.

When you are pregnant, you need to careful about infections and infectious diseases. Unborn and newborn babies have weak immune systems compared with older children and adults, and therefore are very susceptible to infection. Infections in pregnancy can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or other organisms called protozoa.

The placenta, umbilical cord, and fetal membranes are vital to the healthy growth and development of your unborn baby. Sometimes problems can arise with these structures, which can cause concerns for both mother and baby.

A normal, healthy pregnancy lasts from 37 to 42 weeks. Babies born during this time are called full-term babies. A baby born before the 37th week of pregnancy is called premature or preterm. If your pregnancy lasts past the end of the 41st week, it is called a post-term pregnancy. In other words, the baby is overdue.

Nicolette Caccia, MEd, MD, FRCSC

Rory Windrim, MB, MSc, FRCSC