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Common Fetal Pregnancy Complications

Most pregnancies end with a healthy delivery at term, but in some pregnancies complications can occur. Women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should be aware of common pregnancy complications and should be under the care of a physician to help monitor their health throughout pregnancy. Serious complications can often be avoided when detected early. Abnormal presentation of the baby, too much or too little amniotic fluid, growth restriction of the baby, and problems with the placenta are common complications affecting the fetus that expectant mothers should be familiar with. Education is a powerful tool in the effort to diagnose and manage conditions before they become life threatening.

In the last month of the pregnancy, the baby normally turns into a head down or cephalic presentation, situated low in the motherís pelvis. However, in about 7% of pregnancies the baby doesnít turn, and is positioned with its feet or bottom toward the birth canal in what is called a breech presentation. This common pregnancy complication can occur for several reasons. An abnormality in the amount of amniotic fluid, a problem with the shape of the uterus, or an abnormality in the baby can all cause a breech presentation. In many breech presentations however, no cause is found. Breech presentation is more common in premature labors or if there are twins present. In most cases it is standard to perform a Cesarean section when a breech presentation occurs in order to prevent the fetal head from becoming trapped after the body has delivered.

Abnormalities in the amount of amniotic fluid are another common pregnancy complication. Too much fluid, polyhydramnios, is often detected when the uterus enlarges faster than expected during the course of pregnancy. This can be due to a blockage of the baby's gastrointestinal tract such as duodenal atresia or a tracheoesphogeal fistula. Maternal diabetes is another cause. In some cases no cause is found. Oligohydramnios, or too little fluid, is detected when the uterus does not grow as much as predicted. High blood pressure in the mother and other conditions that decrease blood flow to the placenta can cause this pregnancy complication. Ultrasound technology is used to diagnose these abnormalities.

Along with low fluid, fetal intrauterine growth restriction or IUGR results from a decrease in blood flow to the placenta, which prevents the baby from growing normally because it canít get the nutrition it needs. If the baby is less than the 5th percentile for growth, this may be a concern. These babies are watched very closely and may need to be delivered early to prevent further complications.

Some common pregnancy complications involving the placenta are placenta previa and placental abruption. A placenta previa is when the placenta covers the cervix, or opening to the uterus. In this situation, bleeding often occurs before delivery and can be serious. A Cesarean section is usually performed when this condition is identified, to stop bleeding and prevent decreased blood flow to the baby. Placental abruption is when the placenta separates from the uterine wall before the baby has delivered. Bleeding and sometimes contractions can be signs of this. If severe, the placental abruption is treated with a Cesarean section.

There are many potential complications associated with pregnancy, which is unsurprising considering the dramatic physical changes pregnancy causes. Being informed and alert to the presence of any abnormalities will help maintain maternal and fetal safety. For more information about these or other pregnancy complications, consult your healthcare professional.

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