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Dossier: Pregnancy

What is meant by high-risk pregnancy?

You experience a real roller-coaster of emotions when you’re pregnant – even more so if it’s classified as a “high-risk pregnancy”.

Text: Helwi Braunmiller; photo: Unsplash

There have been considerable advances in the field of gynaecology over the last 50 years. Be it better ultrasound images or increasingly refined laboratory diagnostics, the methods used today benefit both the expectant mother and her baby. As a result, many risks can be identified at an early stage and measures can be taken to protect mother and child. However, this also means that doctors are quick to enter the term “high-risk pregnancy” in the maternity card. And that can be scary.

But it’s important to know that more and more pregnancies are being classified as high risk – not because women are becoming increasingly unhealthy, but because the original 17 known risk factors have long since risen to more than 50. All these factors can have a negative impact on pregnancy, but it isn’t necessarily the case. Some studies indicate that up to half of all pregnancies in Switzerland fall in the high-risk group. At the same time, 97% of all babies are born healthy.

Acute danger is rare

So, if your doctor enters the term “high-risk pregnancy” in your maternity card, take a deep breath. Above all, this means that you and your baby are entitled to more frequent and more precise examinations during pregnancy – if you wish. Mother and child are only rarely in acute danger. All expectant mothers under the age of 17 and over 35 are classified as high risk, even if they and their baby are doing well – simply because the risk of premature births or chromosomal defects in the unborn child is statistically higher in these age groups. The same applies to twin pregnancies, even if they proceed without complications. In purely mathematical terms, multiple babies are often born premature. Even hay fever is included in the list of risks. In addition, there are factors that automatically advocate closer supervision:

  • Diabetes: women with diabetes have to monitor their blood sugar levels more closely than usual – for their own protection, but also to protect the baby
  • Complications during previous pregnancies and births
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Diseases of other organs
  • High blood pressure
  • Hepatitis or HIV
  • Breech presentation
  • Previous caesarean section
  • Asthma

Thanks to medical progress, most women today can experience normal pregnancies. The note “high-risk pregnancy” really only makes a difference at the end of the pregnancy, because women classified as high risk are advised against delivering the baby at home or in a maternity facility.