Pregnancy can feel like a solo activity. You are the one carrying the baby, after all. But pregnancy — especially high-risk pregnancy — is a team sport.
Think of it like being part of a championship football team. You, the expectant mother, are the quarterback. Your health care team is made up of skilled and diverse specialists — doctors, nurses, family and friends — who surround, assist and coach you. Together, you work in unison toward the ultimate goal of a safe and healthy delivery.
Are you ready to get to know the members of your team? You may encounter some or all of the following “players” along your high-risk pregnancy journey. Each is there to support you and your baby. Let’s get started.
The Starting Lineup on Your High-Risk Pregnancy Care Team
Your primary care doctor or OB-GYN is like your team’s head coach. They will oversee all aspects of your care during pregnancy, coordinate with specialists as needed, and serve as your first point of contact for questions or concerns.
Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist
Maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) doctors are OB-GYNs trained to care for pregnant women and their unborn children during pregnancies where the mother, baby or both are at high risk of complications. You may be referred to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist by your OB-GYN if you need a higher level of care before, during or after your pregnancy.
Genetic counselors are health care professionals who offer support and guidance around genetic and inherited issues. Your provider may recommend you see a genetic counselor if you have a family history of a genetic condition or congenital disability, you’re over 35 years of age, you had an abnormal sonogram or prenatal screening, or you’re taking any medications that may be harmful to your growing baby.
Genetic counselors ensure that you understand test results and what they mean for your pregnancy and your child’s future. They can also help you make decisions regarding treatment and offer emotional support as needed.
If it’s discovered that your baby has a life-threatening congenital disability or a condition such as spina bifida that can be corrected before birth, you may be referred to a fetal surgeon. Fetal surgeons are specially trained to perform operations on babies while they’re still in the uterus. These surgeries can range from less invasive interventions using a fetoscope all the way to open fetal surgery.
Neonatalogist and/or Pediatric Surgeon
If your baby is not a candidate for fetal surgery, or if there is a condition that was not discovered before birth, you may see a surgeon who specializes in surgical procedures specifically for newborn infants.
Perinatal nurses are specially trained to provide care to pregnant women. They check vital signs, perform blood and urine tests, and often serve as your first line of defense when identifying abnormalities or high-risk factors. Nurses also offer patient education and are an excellent resource for questions and concerns.
Some nurses have a specialist certification in high-risk perinatal care.
A certified nurse midwife (CNM) is a registered nurse who has obtained a national certification in midwifery. A midwife’s role is to provide care for mother and baby throughout pregnancy and childbirth. In high-risk pregnancies, midwives should work closely with your care team, including your OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine doctor.
Depending on your diagnosis, you may be referred to other specialists as you navigate your high-risk pregnancy, birth and early childhood.
- Fetal and pediatric cardiologists specialize in prenatal and newborn heart conditions.
- Radiologists use advanced imaging techniques to monitor fetal development and diagnose potential complications.
- Anesthesiologists specialize in pain relief and anesthesia, ensuring safe and comfortable procedures.
- Endocrinologists specialize in managing hormonal imbalances, particularly if you suffer from conditions like diabetes or thyroid disorders.
When your doctor orders blood work, imaging or an ultrasound, the hospital or clinic technicians are the ones who carry out the order. These can include ultrasound technicians, phlebotomists, radiology technicians and more. You may have different technicians for every visit, depending on where you receive care.
Perinatal Social Worker
Social workers can provide a number of services throughout your high-risk pregnancy and beyond. Social workers specializing in the perinatal period (pre-birth through one year old) offer women and their families support through advocacy, education and resources.
Eating healthy during pregnancy has many benefits for you and your baby. If you’re experiencing a high-risk pregnancy, your care team may recommend a specialized diet rich in nutrients, protein and fiber. A nutritionist can help you create a tailored meal plan that supports your health and your baby’s development.
Nutritionists also work closely with you to manage weight gain, address dietary restrictions, and offer advice on managing conditions like gestational diabetes or high blood pressure through diet.
Your Support System Outside the Clinic
You’ll meet with your care team often throughout your pregnancy, and you may even spend time in the hospital before giving birth, depending on your condition. However, the majority of time is most likely spent at home. That’s why your support system outside the clinic is an equally important part of your team.
A partner during a high-risk pregnancy can be a valuable resource for support and comfort. From attending prenatal appointments to helping with household management, including caring for other children, a supportive partner can make a significant difference in your pregnancy experience.
It’s important to note that a partner doesn’t have to be a spouse. Your primary support person could be a family member, a close friend or someone else you trust deeply. You may even choose to hire a doula to step into this type of role during the last few months of pregnancy. Whoever you designate as supporter-in-chief, be sure to communicate your needs clearly and speak up if you need additional support.
Family and Friends
Parents, siblings, extended family and close friends can all be sources of support as you navigate a high-risk pregnancy. Ask for help in specific ways, like meal preparation, house cleaning or watching your other children while you’re at appointments. It can be hard to accept help but remember, those who love you will want to be there for you.
A high-risk pregnancy can feel isolating. Even if friends and family mean well, they might not understand exactly what you’re going through. Ask your doctor or social worker to recommend local or online support groups for high-risk pregnancies. It can be helpful to compare notes and talk about your experience with those who understand.
High-Risk Pregnancy Appointments Timeline
The timing and frequency of your prenatal visits will vary greatly depending on your condition and doctor’s recommendations. Here is a broad overview of appointments from March of Dimes to give you an idea of what to expect.
Typical pregnancy prenatal visit schedule:
Once you’re diagnosed with a high-risk pregnancy, your scheduled visits are likely to be more frequent. Depending on your unique circumstances, you may need to spend time in the hospital or on bed rest.
Finding Your Team
Your high-risk pregnancy doctors and team will be made up of a wide variety of specialists and supporters, but the most important thing is that they are united in ensuring you have the best possible experience and outcome. An integrated team that meets frequently, communicates openly and keeps you at the center is essential. With a dedicated care team, you’re not just another patient; you’re a priority.