A high-risk pregnancy is a pregnancy that involves increased health risks for the pregnant person, fetus or both. Certain health conditions and your age (being over 35 or under 17 when pregnant) can make a pregnancy high risk. These pregnancies require close monitoring to reduce the chance of complications.
All pregnancies carry risks. The definition of a “high-risk” pregnancy is any pregnancy that carries increased health risks for the pregnant person, fetus or both. People with high-risk pregnancies may need extra care before, during and after they give birth. This helps to reduce the possibility of complications.
However, having a pregnancy that’s considered high risk doesn’t mean you or your fetus will have problems. Many people experience healthy pregnancies and normal labor and delivery despite having special health needs.
About 50,000 people in the U.S. experience severe pregnancy complications each year. Overall, Black people are about three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white people.
Factors that make a pregnancy high risk include:
People with many preexisting conditions have increased health risks during pregnancy. Some of these conditions include:
Pregnancy-related health conditions that can pose risks to the pregnant person and fetus include:
Talk to your doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms during pregnancy, whether or not your pregnancy is considered high-risk:
People who get pregnant for the first time after age 35 have high-risk pregnancies. Research suggests they’re more likely to have complications than younger people. These may include early pregnancy loss and pregnancy-related health conditions such as gestational diabetes.
Young people under 17 also have high-risk pregnancies because they may be:
A high-risk pregnancy can be life-threatening for the pregnant person or fetus. Serious complications can include:
Getting early and thorough prenatal care is critical. It’s the best way to detect and diagnose a high-risk pregnancy. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about your health history and any past pregnancies. If you do have a high-risk pregnancy, you may need special monitoring throughout your pregnancy.
Tests to monitor your health and the health of the fetus may include:
Management for a high-risk pregnancy will depend on your specific risk factors. Your care plan may include:
If your health or the health of the fetus is in danger, your healthcare provider may recommend labor induction or a C-section.
You can reduce your risk of pregnancy complications by:
Many people who have high-risk pregnancies don’t experience any problems and deliver healthy babies. But they may be at a higher risk for health problems in the future, including:
Some high-risk pregnancies can increase a child’s risk of:
It’s possible for pregnancy-related complications to occur up to six weeks after a pregnancy ends. Pay close attention to your health. Alert your healthcare provider right away if you notice anything abnormal.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
What does high-risk pregnancy mean? A variety of factors can make a pregnancy high risk. These include age and certain health conditions. If you have a high-risk pregnancy, you may need extra care before, during and after birth. Be sure to get thorough prenatal care. Stay in close communication with your healthcare provider to reduce your risk of pregnancy complications.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/14/2021.
Learn more about our editorial process.