What factors put a pregnancy at risk?

OB/GYNs offer advice for a healthy pregnancy and successful delivery

Every pregnancy carries risks – some we can control and others we can’t.

Pre-existing medical conditions and family history are most likely out of our control. However, there are many lifestyle factors that we can monitor and modify that assist with a successful pregnancy, delivery and healthy baby.

Dr. Wilfredo Negron
Dr. Wilfredo Negron

In fact, it begins before conception.

A healthy pregnancy starts PRIOR to conception

“I always tell my patients who are planning pregnancy that now is the time to be ‘the best versions of themselves,’” says Dr. Jessica Mullinix, who is a participating physician in My Telfair Doc, a team of OB/GYNs dedicated to treating female health issues. “To me that means achieve a healthy weight, focus on proper nutrition, exercise regularly and stop smoking.”

Related Article: VIDEO: Modified exercises you can do at any point in your pregnancy

Starting your pregnancy at or close to your ideal body weight not only increases your chances of getting pregnant but also lowers the risk of complications during pregnancy, says Dr. Wilfredo Negron, a Savannah OB/GYN also participating in My Telfair Doc. If you are able to modify your eating habits, diet and exercise to get close to a healthy body weight before getting pregnant, Dr. Negron believes that discipline will carry over during the course of your pregnancy.

“Since you’ve been able to modify your lifestyle, you will be able to carry that throughout the pregnancy by refraining from excessive caffeine, calorie, sugar and cholesterol intake,” Dr. Negron says. “That’s hard for all us, but if you have the power and desire to lose weight, most likely you will tend to do better during pregnancy.”

Dr. Mullinix even suggests a patient’s partner also watch his weight, diet and exercise habits. Some epigenetic studies have shown male partner obesity affecting the child, Dr. Mullinix says.

Going to all prenatal appointments also is extremely important for a healthy pregnancy, she adds.   

Pregnancy risks

Once you are pregnant, there are several health and lifestyle factors that you should be aware of that can put a pregnancy at risk. Let’s take a look at some of those:


We mentioned how important weight is just to get pregnant, but it’s also just as important to maintain a healthy weight throughout the pregnancy.

Dr. Jessica Mullinix
Dr. Jessica Mullinix

Obesity increases your risk of miscarriages, Dr. Negron says. It also increases your risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, preeclampsia and seizures during pregnancy.

Being pregnant is not an excuse to eat whatever you want. During pregnancy, your balanced diet should include calcium, iron, folic acid, omega-3 and choline. You should limit high-carbohydrate, high-fat foods.

“It’s all about healthy choices,” says Bentley Danello, RD, LD, education specialist in disease management and registered dietitian with St. Joseph’s/Candler. “It’s really important to focus on making sure you are eating a balanced meal – having fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein in your diet.”

Related Article: Understanding a pregnancy diet and proper weight gain 

High blood pressure

Many women with slightly elevated blood pressure can still have healthy pregnancies. The risks increase with uncontrolled high blood.

Hypertension can cause damage to the kidneys and extreme growth issues with the baby, Dr. Negron says. Some babies may be born too big, while others too small, resulting in a premature delivery, which increases the chances of learning disabilities, special needs and even death of the child.

A common complication of pregnancy is preeclampsia, which is a condition brought on by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. It occurs in about one out of 20 pregnancies, and can result in seizures, blood clots and even death for mom and/or baby.

Bentley Danello
Bentley Danello

To prevent preeclampsia and high blood pressure in general, expecting moms should eat a healthy diet, drink lots of fluids and exercise within their doctor’s recommendations.

Related Article: The known and unknown of preeclampsia in pregnant women


High blood sugar levels can cause birth defects during the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she’s pregnant. Therefore, managing blood sugar levels is just as important before conception as it is during the pregnancy.

Complications with diabetes during pregnancy also can result in growth issues similar to those of hypertension.

If you have diabetes and become pregnant, you can still have a healthy pregnancy. Be sure to follow all your doctor’s orders, check your blood glucose regularly, take medication as prescribed, exercise and follow a healthy diet full of vegetables, whole grains, fruits and lean meats.

Alcohol and tobacco use

You may know women who say a glass of red wine now and then during pregnancy doesn’t hurt anything. However, alcohol consumed during pregnancy passes directly to the fetus through the umbilical cord.

Women who drink during pregnancy are more likely to have a miscarriage. Other risk factors include a high chance of birth defects or the baby born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). FASD is a group of fetal disorders associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy. These disorders can cause abnormal facial features, low body weight, hyperactivity disorder, intellectual disabilities and vision or hearing problems.

It’s also important to never smoke during pregnancy. Smoking puts the baby at risk for early birth, certain birth defects and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Additionally, second hand smoke also puts the woman and her developing fetus at an increased risk for health problems.

“I think that prevention, prevention, prevention is always a good idea for a successful pregnancy,” Dr. Negron says. “Talk to your obstetrician and primary care doctor and have a plan in place.”

  • St. Joseph's Hospital Campus: 11705 Mercy Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419, (p) 912-819-4100
  • Candler Hospital Campus: 5353 Reynolds St., Savannah, GA 31405, (p) 912-819-6000
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St.Joseph's Hospital Campus: 912-819-4100

Candler Hospital Campus: 912-819-6000