More serious complications in pregnancy

Changes in your body because of pregnancy can lead to minor health problems such as backache or varicose veins. If there are signs of more serious problems in your pregnancy, you may need treatment or careful observation. Below we cover the more serious problems that can occur.


Anaemia is a condition which occurs when there are not enough red blood cells in your body. The condition shows up in a blood test. Anaemia may be the result of illness, poor diet, severe sickness or extra strain on your body, such as when you are expecting twins. You will be given information on changing your diet, and you may be prescribed iron and vitamin supplements.

Vaginal bleeding

You should contact your midwife for advice straight away if you experience severe abdominal pain or are bleeding from the vagina in pregnancy. (Jelly like bleeding is normal). Sometimes the placenta is lying so low it covers the cervix. It is more likely to bleed in this position.

This condition – placenta praevia – is uncommon and needs careful observation. In later pregnancy, it could be that the placenta is separating from the uterine wall. This could be life threatening to you and your baby.

Not all instances of bleeding are serious – some women do bleed a little, on and off, throughout pregnancy, for a variety of minor reasons.

Continued sickness

There are various reasons for this, including a twin pregnancy or being particularly sensitive to hormones. If you are unfortunate, the pregnancy sickness that usually disappears at around 12 weeks persists into later pregnancy. Very severe cases, known as hyperemesis gravidarum, need hospital treatment.


Some women develop diabetes during pregnancy. The condition disappears after pregnancy, although some women do go on to develop diabetes later. The pregnancy may be affected, as the baby tends to get larger, and the diabetes will be monitored to make sure it remains under control. You may need to attend a different antenatal clinic and see a specialist obstetrician.

High blood pressure

Your blood pressure is checked regularly at the antenatal clinic. When blood pressure is very high, it can be diagnosed as pregnancy-induced hypertension. If it’s present with other symptoms, it can be a sign of pre-eclampsia. High blood pressure can affect your health and that of your growing baby.


Occasionally women develop a severe itching of the skin in pregnancy. This is usually no more than an irritating discomfort – but occasionally it can be the sign of a condition called obstetric cholestasis, where the liver is affected by pregnancy. See your midwife if your itch doesn’t clear up, or if no treatment helps.

Pelvic girdle pain

This happens when the small joint (the symphysis pubis) at the front of the bony girdle of the pelvis opens up too far. It can cause a lot of pain on walking or even standing. Physiotherapy or wearing a support belt can help.

Lack of vitamin D can also cause bone aches and muscle weakness.  Ask your midwife about choosing a supplement which might help.

Fetal growth restriction

Some babies have fetal growth restriction (FGR) which means they are smaller and lighter than most babies at this stage in pregnancy. It may happen because the placenta isn’t nourishing the baby well, or perhaps because the baby has an underlying condition which is preventing growth.  If the mother’s diet is very poor or she is a smoker, this can cause poor growth in the baby. Occasionally, poor growth in the baby can be a sign of pre-eclampsia in the mother. It can also increase the risk of stillbirth. Problems with a baby's growth should be picked up during antenatal appointments.

Group B Streptococcus (GBS)

Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is one of many bacteria that can be present in our bodies. It's estimated that about one in four pregnant women in the UK carries GBS. GBS is commonly found first in the digestive system and the female reproductive system, and we don't know which women carry it. It usually causes no harm. Most pregnant women who carry GBS bacteria go on to have healthy babies.

However, some women at increased risk of infection will be screened for GBS around the time of labour and birth. Some babies may come into contact with GBS and there's a small risk that GBS may cause infection in the baby. Rarely, GBS infection in newborn babies can cause serious complications that can be life threatening. For more information go to Group B streptococcus (GBS) infection in newborn babies.

Most babies infected with GBS show symptoms within 12 hours of birth. If a baby develops GBS infection less than seven days after birth, it's known as early-onset GBS infection. If your baby is considered at increased risk, she will be monitored for signs of infection immediately after birth and before discharge. This will include assessing your baby’s general wellbeing, feeding, temperature, heart rate and breathing rate. 

Babies with GBS infection may be very sleepy, be floppy and not feed well. If you are worried about your baby contact NHS 24 free on 111 or speak to your health visitor or GP. If you cannot contact any health professionals within four hours then go to an Emergency Department stating that you are concerned about Group B Strep infection.

However, if you feel that something is not quite right, follow your instincts - phone your GP for general health problems or your midwife or maternity unit if you have concerns connected with your pregnancy, especially any changes in your baby's movements. You can call NHS 24 on 111 (freephone) at any time.

Last Updated: 02 October 2017
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