Glengarry Private Hospital
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5 complications during pregnancy

5 complications that can develop during pregnancy

The serious health complications that can develop during pregnancy.

 Most pregnancies are low-risk, beginning and ending with no major problems. Still, pregnancy is a complex process and there are certain complications expectant parents need to be aware of.


The most serious and life-threatening of all pregnancy-related conditions. Possible implications for the baby include growth restriction, preterm birth and placental abruption. Specific to the mother, there may be organ damage, stroke and eclampsia (seizures). There is a risk of death for both mother and baby in severe cases.

Mild pre-eclampsia appears in five to ten per cent of women, while the more severe form affects one per cent. It usually starts sometime after the 20-week mark, but the trouble is that there often are no symptoms except elevated blood pressure and more protein in the mother’s urine – neither of which can be ‘felt’ but your medical provider will test for. If there are symptoms, they may include:

• Severe headaches
• Visual disturbances like blurred vision, flashing lights or light sensitivity
• Dizziness
• Decreased urine output
• Nausea and/or vomiting
• Pain below the ribs
• Breathlessness
• Swelling in the face and hands.

The only cure is the birth of your baby. If you are worried about symptoms you’re having, please contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Find out more about pre-eclampsia

Gestational diabetes

This is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. Risk factors include:

• Having had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
• A family history of Type II diabetes
• From a South-East Asian, Aboriginal or Indian background
• Given birth to a large baby previously (more than 4.5kg)
• Aged over 40
• Obesity
• Gaining weight quickly in the first half of pregnancy.

All expectant mothers are screened for this type of diabetes with a test called glucose tolerance or glucose challenge between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. Gestational diabetes usually disappears after birth, but there is an increased risk of developing Type II diabetes in the future.

Find out more about gestational diabetes.


We typically associate anaemia with low iron, and while the vast majority of cases are due to this, it can also be down to blood loss or a folate or vitamin B12 deficiency. Severe anaemia increases the chance of preterm birth, reduced amniotic fluid and miscarriage. It is a very common pregnancy complication and symptoms include fatigue, breathlessness and irritability. These signs are also normal pregnancy side-effects, which is why blood tests are taken at regular intervals.

Placenta Previa

The placenta can implant anywhere in the uterus but sometimes it embeds at the bottom, covering the cervix. Typically, the placenta moves upwards but if it stays low, this is what’s called placenta previa and a vaginal delivery isn’t possible.

What makes this a problem during pregnancy is that the mother could haemorrhage, the baby arrives prematurely, an emergency C-section may be needed, or the baby could lose blood or suffer distress from a lack of oxygen. Ultrasounds during pregnancy will pick up this complication and there are a variety of successful treatment options.

Find out more about placenta previa.

Obstetric cholestasis

Itchy skin is a common complaint during pregnancy and is usually thanks to skin stretching over your growing baby bump. Some women also find their skin gets irritated by certain fabrics or by something in the environment.

Then there is obstetric cholestasis. This is an uncommon liver condition that strikes during the third trimester. It is thought to be caused by hormones, but there is also a genetic component. Symptoms include:
• Mild or severe itching – usually without a rash – on the palms and feet, although it can occur anywhere on the body
• Itching is often worse at night
• Problems sleeping due to itching
• Dark urine and pale stools (less common)
• Jaundice (uncommon).

Obstetric cholestasis carries the danger of stillbirth and premature birth but it isn’t something routinely tested for, so please speak with your obstetrician or midwife if you have itchy skin.

Pregnancy should not be a time of constant worry, but mothers-to-be do need to be aware of conditions that can develop during pregnancy.

About The Author

Dr Philip Rowlands is a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecological Surgeon who has delivered more than 10,000 babies. To contact Dr Rowlands, visit or call his rooms on (08) 9448 6064.