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High Risk Stages of Pregnancy

By Kirstin Hendrickson ; Updated June 13, 2017

When a woman finds out she’s pregnant, it’s natural that one of the first things she wonders is whether her baby is developing normally and whether her pregnancy will be risky. While pregnancy is a very natural event that more often than not proceeds with minimal complications after diagnosis, there are several stages of pregnancy that nevertheless present a risk to the baby.


Perhaps the riskiest stage of pregnancy is the period of time between fertilization—the meeting of sperm and egg—and implantation into the uterine wall. In fact, “Discover,” a science and technology magazine, indicates that as many as 60 to 80 percent of fertilized eggs may fail to implant. In their book, “You: Having A Baby,” authors Michael Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet Oz, M.D., suggest that this astronomical failure rate of fertilized eggs to implant may be due largely to mistimed fertilization. While an egg typically survives for about 24 hours after ovulation and while sperm can live up to three days in a woman’s body, there’s nevertheless a narrow window of time during which the lining of the uterus is most susceptible to implantation.

Embryonic Phase

During this period of time, the developing embryo is very sensitive to chemicals, toxins, and changes in environment. Adverse influences, including medications taken by the mother, vitamin deficiencies, and abnormal maternal temperature, lead to birth defects. Drs. Roizen and Oz also note that during this period, genetic abnormalities in the developing embryo begin to show themselves, and that many of these genetic flaws lead to miscarriage. In “Hands Off My Belly,” Shawn Tassone, M.D., and Kathryn Landherr, M.D., assert that while miscarriages associated with genetic abnormalities are unavoidable, proper maternal nutrition and avoidance of drugs, pharmaceuticals and alcohol helps prevent organ damage and related birth defects or miscarriages during this high-risk period of pregnancy.


Drs. Oz and Roizen note that after the conclusion of organ development, much of the rest of pregnancy is relatively risk-free, at least by comparison. Delivery of the fetus, however, presents a final challenge to both mother and infant. Physical complications that preclude vaginal delivery can include failure of the baby to descend on time, small pelvic size in the mother or large head size in the baby. Any of these may result in long labor that fails to lead to delivery, stressing both mother and baby and ultimately culminating in a Cesarean section. Abnormal presentations, such as breech positions in which the baby is feet or bottom first, are also risky, both because they can slow delivery and because they may increase the likelihood that the umbilical cord will become wrapped around an infant’s neck. Careful monitoring during labor helps ensure that delivery proceeds normally, and in difficult cases, obstetricians may simply choose to deliver a baby surgically to avoid further risk.

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