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Most pregnancies are perfectly healthy, and moms-to-be glide through them with nothing more severe than a few bouts of nausea and the occasional backache. However, some women do develop more serious health problems that can threaten their own and their baby's well-being, sometimes even their lives. Don't worry—life-threatening complications are extremely rare. But it's important to know what signs and symptoms to look out for.
Here are some common pregnancy problems, along with information on their causes and treatments.
Cause: Hormones—and during pregnancy, levels skyrocket. As many as 85 percent of women suffer some nausea and/or vomiting, mostly in the first trimester.
Danger: "Though morning sickness is uncomfortable and can be emotionally trying, there is no physical harm to mother or baby as long as the mother doesn't become dehydrated," says Joel M. Evans, M.D., director of The Center for Women's Health in Darien, Conn., and author of The Whole Pregnancy Handbook (Gotham, 2005).
However, severe morning sickness, or hyperemesis gravidarum, can rob you and your baby of essential hydration and nutrients.
Treatment: Stay hydrated with water, sports drinks or whatever fluids you can keep down. Eat frequent, small meals and snacks high in complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains or vegetables. Sour and salty foods sometimes help, as may ginger. Ask your doctor about taking vitamin B6, alone or with an antihistamine. If you vomit more than a few times a day, lose weight or can't keep down water, call your doctor. You may need intravenous nutrition.
Cause: Blood-sugar (glucose) levels soar because the body develops an insensitivity to insulin, a hormone that ushers blood sugar into cells. Some 3 to 5 percent of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, usually in the late second or the third trimester.
Danger: Elevated blood sugar can disrupt fetal metabolic function, so you grow a large baby, but not necessarily a healthy one, says Elizabeth Stein, R.N., M.P.H., a certified nurse-midwife in New York. A big baby is more likely to have birth complications and need to be delivered by forceps, vacuum or Cesarean section. Very large newborns may have low blood sugar, develop jaundice or breathing problems and need to be observed in the high-risk nursery.
Treatment: Reduce blood sugar by exercising regularly and eating a diet low in sweets and other simple carbs. If blood-sugar levels remain high, you may need to consult a nutritionist and take prescription medications or insulin injections. Gestational diabetes disappears after delivery, though it predicts a 50 percent greater chance of developing type II diabetes later in life.