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Possible Risks of Pregnancy

All pregnancies have some risk of complications. These risks are affected by the pregnant woman's health and the prenatal care she receives.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) counts pregnancy-related death as any death while pregnant or up to one year after the end of the pregnancy from any cause associated with the pregnancy or its management.  Each year, approximately 650 women die of pregnancy complications.  According to the CDC, in 2011 there were 17.8 overall pregnancy related deaths in the United States per 100,000 who became pregnant. Race was strongly linked with pregnancy-related deaths; black women were 3-4 times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy than were white women. Women of other races were nearly 1.5 times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than were white women.

  1. One problem that may result in serious injury from pregnancy is pre-eclampsia. Symptoms of pre-eclampsia include high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and swelling. Pre-eclampsia occurs in 5% of all pregnancies. The risk is higher with the first baby. Pre-eclampsia may cause maternal stroke, bleeding disorders, kidney damage, heart disease, and seizures.
  2. Infection is another cause of problems in pregnancy and childbirth. Infection during pregnancy is usually only in the pelvic organs. If an infection during pregnancy enters the mother's bloodstream, intensive treatment could be required.
  3. Premature labor occurs in about 12% of pregnancies. Treatment sometimes requires long hospital stays. Medicine used to stop premature labor can cause  fluid in the lungs and heart failure in the mother. Premature infants may have serious health problems. The risk of complications for premature infants is lower as the pregnancy nears 9 months. Premature labor may be associated with smoking, drug use, diabetes, or other health conditions.  Sometimes, the cause of premature birth is not known.
  4. Pregnant women can develop temporary diabetes (gestational diabetes). This increases the risk of a difficult delivery or a cesarean delivery. Infants whose mothers have gestational diabetes have a higher risk of medical complications and death. The risk of gestational diabetes is higher if a woman is overweight or has family members with diabetes.
  5. About 32% of all women in the United States will need an operation to deliver the baby (Cesarean or C-section delivery).Chances of needing a C-section increase when there are problems with the placenta, when the fetus is distressed and the heart rate slows down, when there are multiple fetuses, when the fetus has a large head size, etc.
  6. Hemorrhage (too much bleeding) can occur either before or during delivery. Bleeding during delivery is sometimes serious enough to require a blood transfusion and/or cause a woman to need a hysterectomy (removal of uterus).
  7. Difficult deliveries can cause damage to the bladder and rectum. Surgery may be needed to fix this damage.
  8. Anesthesia, which has some risks, may be needed for difficult deliveries, Cesarean sections, and emergencies.

Pregnancy is usually a safe, natural event, but problems can arise. Talking with a doctor may help you learn about your risks.


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014), January 22).  Pregnancy Complications
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, December 23).  Pregnancy-related mortality surveillance system
  • Maternal and Infant Health Research: Pregnancy Complications . (2009, May 13). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control.
  • Pregnancy. (2006). the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine (Vol. 4, 3rd Ed.). Detroit: Gale, pages 3005-3010. Accessed via the South Carolina State Library on June 28, 2010.
  • Pregnancy-Related Mortality Surveillance – United States, 1991-1999. (2003, Feb 21).Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (2003, Feb., 21). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control.
  • Prematurity. (2009, Dec. 10). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control.
  • Recent Trends in Cesarean Delivery in the United States. (2010, Mar.). National Center for Health Statistics. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control.

Next: Methods of Abortion