High-risk pregnancy: Expert care, peace of mind

A high-risk pregnancy means you and your baby get special attention to make sure everyone is healthy. At UW Health, your doctors will watch you and your baby closely to find any issues early and provide peace of mind.

Symptoms and diagnosis

What makes a pregnancy high risk?

Many conditions can put your pregnancy at risk for certain complications. This doesn't mean that you or your baby will have complications. If an issue does occur, our specialists are always on call to answer your questions and manage any irregularities.

Health conditions that can impact pregnancy include:

  • Cardiac disease

  • Chronic hypertension

  • Cystic fibrosis

  • Diabetes – type 1 or 2, insulin dependent GDM

  • Hemolytic incompatibility

  • History of or current coagulation concern

  • HIV

  • Hypertension

  • Pulmonary disease (including active asthma)

  • Renal disease

  • Seizure disorder

  • Sickle Cell disease

  • Thyroid disorders

  • Other chronic or acute condition that may affect pregnancy

Health concerns with past pregnancies, such as:

  • Being pregnant with multiples

  • Early labor

  • Having a baby with a genetic anomaly, such as Down syndrome

  • Having a baby with a heart, lung or kidney condition

  • Having three or more miscarriages

  • Preeclampsia (high blood pressure later in pregnancy)

  • Pregnancy loss

  • Seizures

Lifestyle issues also can impact pregnancy risks, including:

  • Age: younger than 17 or older than 35

  • Alcohol or drug use

  • Smoking

Fetal conditions that may affect pregnancy include:

  • Fetal anomalies

  • Multiple gestation

  • Growth restrictions

  • Other fetal condition that may affect the pregnancy

A mother holding her baby, who has a feeding tube inserted through the nose
Pregnancy and newborn care
One call does it all

Pregnancy and Newborn Care gives you access to the world-class team of maternal, neonatal and pediatric specialists and advanced facilities of UW Health, American Family Children's Hospital and UnityPoint Health - Meriter in Madison, Wis. Whether you have a high-risk patient or a fragile neonate, we are here to help. To make a referral or discuss care, please call (608) 263-3260 or (800) 472-0111.


What to expect

When your pregnancy is high risk, you will see your obstetrician more often. Your doctor closely monitors your health and the baby’s growth.

You can expect:

  • Frequent blood pressure checks

  • Genetic testing

  • Medicines for asthma, diabetes or high blood pressure if you have these conditions

  • Ultrasound exams to check your baby’s growth 

  • Urine tests to check for preeclampsia and infections

Depending on your condition, your doctor may want you to deliver your baby at a location that provides easy access to specialty care, such as a neonatal intensive care unit.

If your health or your baby's health is at risk, your doctor may induce labor so that you deliver your baby early to protect the health of you both.

Advanced care for your baby

Sometimes you know your baby will need an extra level of care. Even if you don’t, our team is here to handle any issues your baby has during pregnancy or at birth. Our specialists are equipped to care for babies with multiple health conditions or those needing surgery right away.

Our neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) provides comforting support for your baby and your family during what we know is a stressful time.

The 26-bed Level IV NICU at American Family Children’s Hospital provides care for premature and full-term babies, and is one of two Level IV NICUs in Wisconsin.

What you can do for a healthy pregnancy

Follow these tips to keep you and your baby as healthy as possible:

  • Attend all doctor appointments

  • Do not smoke.

  • Do not drink alcohol.

  • Eat a healthy diet that includes protein, milk, fruits and vegetables.

  • Exercise based on your doctor's instructions.

  • Stay away from people with colds and other infections.

  • Take any medicines, iron or vitamins that your doctor prescribes.

  • Take folic acid every day - this B vitamin reduces the risk of certain birth defects.

  • Track your baby’s movements each day, if asked by your doctor.

When to seek care

Your doctor will talk to you about signs of distress to watch for during your pregnancy. Call 911 if you:

  • Have a seizure

  • Have severe vaginal bleeding

  • Have severe pain in your belly or pelvis

  • Pass out (lose consciousness)

Call your doctor if:

  • You have belly pain or cramping

  • You have a fever

  • You have low back pain or pelvic pressure that does not go away

  • You have regular contractions for an hour

  • You have signs of preeclampsia, such as new vision problems, severe headache or sudden swelling of your face, hands or feet

  • You have a sudden release of fluid from your vagina

  • You have vaginal bleeding

  • You notice that your baby has stopped moving or is moving much less than normal

Your care team

Pregnancy and newborn specialists

At UW Health, our obstetricians and maternal-fetal specialists, also known as perinatologists, care for you and your baby during your pregnancy. Women are referred to meet with a Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist for a variety of reasons, either prior to or during a pregnancy. If your baby needs special care during pregnancy or at birth, a team will be by your side.

Lila’s amazing story

Lila was diagnosed with a rare disorder while still in the womb. The NICU at American Family Children’s Hospital created a plan that worked with her parents’ visual impairments.

NICU tips from parents

Hear what other parents have to say about living through a child’s NICU experience. Watch the videos


Care when and where you need it

Our pregnancy specialists provide care for high risk pregnancies at multiple locations in Madison.

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