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Factors That Put a Strain on the Fetus of Pregnant Women

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Existing health conditions like high blood pressure, the mother's age, and bad health strain the fetus in several ways. The article describes all in detail.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Arjun Chaudhari

Published At February 21, 2023
Reviewed AtFebruary 21, 2023

Introduction

A healthy pregnancy is essential for the well-being of a mother and the fetus. Many factors can strain a pregnant woman's fetus, creating a situation of high-risk pregnancy. In case of any underlying factors or conditions that might put the fetus at risk, the pregnant mother should work closely with their respective healthcare providers and try to ease the condition to reduce any risks during pregnancy.

What Factors Put a Strain on the Fetus of Pregnant Women?

Some factors that strain the fetus during pregnancy include mother’s age, existing health conditions, and health issues that happen before or during pregnancy.

1. Existing Health Conditions -

  • High Blood Pressure - High blood pressure is risky for both mother and fetus. Women with slightly high blood pressure, get must get it under control, to have healthy pregnancies and deliver healthy babies. But when the blood pressure is uncontrolled, the mother's kidneys can get damaged; preeclampsia may occur, and the risk for low birth weight increases. Therefore, it is essential to check the blood pressure during every prenatal visit and maintain the blood pressure levels in the normal range throughout the pregnancy. If any change is noted during the prenatal visits, the healthcare provider will make the necessary changes in treatment.

  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) - Women with the polycystic ovarian syndrome have a high chance of pregnancy loss before reaching 20 weeks. They can also experience gestational diabetes (diabetes that occurs during pregnancy), the chances of cesarean section are high, and preeclampsia can also occur.

  • Diabetes Mellitus - It is essential for women with diabetes mellitus to maintain their blood sugar levels before and throughout pregnancy. High blood sugar levels during the initial few weeks of pregnancy can cause birth defects. Even with a well-controlled blood sugar level, metabolic changes happen, which might require extra care or treatment for a healthy baby.

  • Kidney Disease - Even though kidney diseases cause difficulties in getting and staying pregnant, pregnant women with mild kidney disease often have healthy pregnancies. Some of the difficulties kidney disease causes include low birth weight, preterm delivery, and preeclampsia. Pregnant women with kidney disease require medication and diet changes, frequent doctor visits, and additional treatment.

  • Autoimmune Disease - Autoimmune conditions like lupus and multiple sclerosis increase the risk for various problems during pregnancy and delivery. While some women may experience improvement in symptoms during pregnancy, others may experience flare-ups. Since certain medications for autoimmune diseases are harmful to the fetus, pregnant women must consult with their respective doctors throughout pregnancy.

  • Thyroid Disease - Uncontrolled thyroid diseases like an overactive thyroid or an underactive thyroid cause problems in the fetus, like poor weight gain, problems in the development of the brain, and heart failure. Thyroid problems are usually treated by medicines or through surgical intervention.

  • Obesity - Obesity before pregnancy leads to several risks, resulting in poor pregnancy outcomes. Obesity increases the chances of developing diabetes during pregnancy. The fetus is larger than a normal fetus, making the birth process more difficult. Obesity during pregnancy also increases the chances of sleep apnea and disordered breathing during sleeping. There is also an increased risk of structural problems in the baby's heart.

2. Age

  • In young age. Pregnant teens have higher chances of developing anemia (lack of red blood cells), pregnancy-induced hypertension, and going through early labor (preterm labor). Teens are less likely to keep prenatal appointments or take prenatal care. Prenatal care is essential as it allows the doctor to identify, evaluate and treat risks, like advising pregnant teens not to take certain medications that risk pregnancy and the fetus.

  • First-time pregnancy after the age of 35. Most pregnant women above 35 years have normal pregnancies, but studies show that older women are at higher risk for specific issues than younger women. Some of them are

  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension and gestational diabetes.

  • Pregnancy loss.

  • Cesarean delivery and complications in delivery like excessive bleeding.

  • Labor that does not advance and prolonged labor.

  • Ectopic pregnancy (embryo attaches in other parts than the uterus)

  • Genetic disorders like Down syndrome in the baby.

3. Lifestyle Factors

  • Alcohol Use - Alcohol use during pregnancy increases the risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), sudden infant death syndrome, and other conditions. FASDs cause developmental and intellectual disabilities, abnormal facial features, behavioral problems, and disorders of the kidneys, bones, heart, and problems in hearing. There are chances of miscarriage or stillbirth for pregnant women who drink. There is no safe quantity of alcohol to drink during pregnancy; even very low levels of alcohol exposure to the fetus will lead to long-term developmental problems.

  • Tobacco Use - Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk for certain birth defects, sudden infant death syndrome, and preterm birth. Studies show that after 20 weeks of pregnancy, smoking doubled or tripled the chances of fetal death and stillbirth. Changes in the immune system of the fetus are also noted.

  • Drug Abuse - Taking drugs or smoking marijuana during pregnancy affects the fetus's health, interferes with the normal development of the fetal brain, causes long-term problems, and increases the risk of stillbirth.

4. Conditions During Pregnancy

  • Multiple Gestation- Multiple gestations mean pregnancy with twins, triplets, or more fetuses. They increase the risk of premature birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy). Infants born prematurely are likely to have breathing difficulties. Multiple births are linked with the intake of fertility drugs and pregnancy after 30. Twins or triplets are likely to be smaller than single infants, and the chances of cesarean section are higher with three or more infants.

  • Gestational Diabetes - Gestational diabetes is diabetes developing during pregnancy. They cause problems for the fetus and the mother, like high blood pressure and preterm labor and delivery. There are also chances for the mother to develop type 2 diabetes later. Pregnant women with gestational diabetes must consult their doctors to manage the condition.

  • Preeclampsia and Eclampsia - Preeclampsia is a condition where the pregnant woman's blood pressure suddenly increases after 20 weeks. This condition affects the mother's liver, kidneys, and brain, is fatal for both fetus and mother, and can cause long-term health issues. Eclampsia is a more severe form of preeclampsia, including seizures and possible coma.

  • Previous Preterm Birth - Pregnant women who had early labor (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) in their previous delivery have a high chance of preterm labor with their present pregnancy. The chances of preterm birth are also high for women who become pregnant within 12 months after their last delivery.

  • Birth Defects or Genetic Conditions in the Fetus - Some health problems can be detected early during pregnancy. Conditions like certain forms of spina bifida (birth defect of the spine and spinal cord) can be detected in the fetus and can be repaired before birth.

Conclusion

Every pregnancy has its own risks, but other factors like preexisting medical conditions, age, and conditions like gestational diabetes that happen during the pregnancy can cause more complications. Therefore, the mother needs to take prenatal assistance from doctors to help minimize the risks associated with pregnancy.

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Dr. Arjun Chaudhari
Dr. Arjun Chaudhari

Obstetrics and Gynecology

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