Other conditions in pregnancy

Various conditions or complications can affect women in pregnancy. Although most of these are quite unusual, they can have serious consequences for the mother or the baby. Regular antenatal monitoring such as blood and urine tests and checking blood pressure can help spot these problems early.

Several women had various types of infection, which could have implications for the pregnancy. For example, one mother had a streptococcal infection which was treated with antibiotics and another had a parvovirus infection ('slapped cheek' syndrome) which needed careful monitoring.


During pregnancy she had a streptococcal infection, so she had to have intravenous antibiotics...

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
I was tested at one point during the pregnancy and they found I had a urinary infection that was group B streptococcal infection and that apparently is a, is again a risk to the baby if it's transmitted during the birth. And for that reason I was told I was going to have to be on intravenous antibiotics during the labour as well, which was one more thing that I'd have to be wired up to when I was actually giving birth. So, yes, I, it was, it was unfortunate that again it was, it was something else that was kind of on a drip. But on the other hand, again I did some research and found that it was, seemed to be a good idea to go ahead with this treatment because it does minimise, minimise the risk and you can have a very sick baby if you don't have this treatment or if it does get infected. So it was worth, worth doing.


She caught 'slapped cheek' syndrome (parvovirus) and was monitored carefully in case it affected...

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
When I was pregnant with my son I was a child-minder and I came, I realised that one of the children that I was child-minding had something, the common name is slapped cheek where children have very bright red cheeks and it's, it's a virus but, and it's not particularly harmful to children but I found out myself that it's harmful to pregnant women. When I went to the doctors the, just for a bit of reassurance, the doctor actually had never heard [laughing] of this slapped cheek, which I'd found out about myself. So she contacted somebody else and found out and - very borderline but they, they tested me for it anyway and discovered that I had had this, they called slapped cheek which is, I think the proper name is parvovirus. So I had to be monitored, initially every 3 days I had to have my baby scanned, growth scans because, apparently, if the baby contracts the illness it could cause severe anaemia which can affect the growth. And the worst case scenario, obviously the worst case scenario is that you'd lose the baby, I think that's very rare. But beside from that, what may have happened was I may have had to have a blood transfusion through my womb, which was actually really frightening, the thought of that possibly happening. But as it turned out, I, they, they scanned me for quite a long time at the end of the pregnancy and the baby was fine. But that, that was worrying, the thought of having surgery through the womb was a frightening thing.

So you did have the virus?

I did, I had the virus but it didn't seem to have been passed on to the baby.

Rubella (or German measles) is another infection that can cause problems, but vaccination against rubella is now widespread and women's immunity level is usually checked in early pregnancy. All women should be offered a test for HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which can lead to AIDS).

Blood tests can also pick up anaemia (low red blood cell count). This can make women feel tired, dizzy or breathless, and can also weaken the body's resistance to infections. Some people who were told they were anaemic had not noticed any changes in how they felt, but others had felt very tired and listless. The midwife or GP may suggest taking iron tablets if the red cell count falls below a certain level.

Gestational diabetes
Some women develop a form of diabetes in pregnancy, called gestational diabetes. Urine and blood testing can pick up women who may be at risk. However, it is still uncertain whether screening everybody is helpful; many women who have slightly raised blood glucose levels will have perfectly normal pregnancies, and screening and further tests may make them needlessly anxious. (See also 'Pregnancy with another condition or disability' for more on pregnancy when women already have diabetes).

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She was tested for gestational diabetes, which made her very anxious for a while. The results...

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Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
I got picked up with a slightly raised glucose level, and so I had to go and do the test for whether I had gestational diabetes, which involves fasting for twelve hours and then drinking this disgusting like Lucozade gone mad kind of drink, really, really sweet, sickly drink, and then you wait for two hours and they test your glucose levels again. And that was kind of, you know, one more thing you just thought you could do without. And I was okay, but one of the girls in our antenatal group had had a positive test from that, and so it was quite nice to be able to talk to her about that really... Because these things, once anything goes wrong or there's any kind of problem, they treat it so seriously - which is good - that you go from being this well person, as the GP described being pregnant at the start, to suddenly having a really kind of, something that's taken really seriously, that often leads to you spending time in hospital. And so that transition, I think, for the two or three people in our antenatal class who'd had any kind of problem - and I think all of us have quite minor problems compared to what can go wrong - it was really helpful to hear that that's how it had been for somebody else's minor problem.

So even a minor problem can affect you in quite a major way?

Well, because of how they respond to it, and I'm not criticising how they respond to it, because the problems can be very serious and they, you know, they, so if you go to the doctor's with a headache normally, say, they just send you away, but if you go with persistent headaches in early pregnancy like somebody in our group had you, you know, can end up being in hospital. And so that's quite difficult because it's quite different from your normal experience...

I mean, I do feel with that that I'm not sure I needed to go through that, because I apparently had a very marginal thing that was picked up through just a normal blood screening thing that they do at however many weeks. And that was very worrying, I mean I spent a week worrying about that before I went to have it done, and it really wasn't that bad, but it would've been another thing 

Did you only realise later that actually you were quite marginal or did you know at the time, before you went for the further test that it was very marginal?

It didn't, the number didn't mean anything to me. It had a number on it of 7 point something. And it was only when I was talking to my partner's father who is a diabetic, and he said that his reading when he first became a diabetic was 23 or something, that I thought kind of 7 probably was fairly low. And then I asked the midwife and she said, 'Oh, you know, you've just gone over the edge of what we pick up, but because of the margins of error then we would always test at that kind of level."

So the midwife told you that after you'd already gone through the experience or...?

Before I went for the test because they'd, yeah

But you still felt?

I think because I - no it wasn't actually the midwife, it was the doctor because I - this all happened at the same time, exactly the same day that I had already started having this bleeding. So both things happened together, so when I went to the GP about the bleeding I asked him and he explained to me about what the letter meant and what a 7.1 reading meant. But there was certainly no feeling with that that you had any choice about going to do this test, which wasn't very invasive, but was really nerve-wracking - and was fine.

In later pregnancy, some women are at risk of developing a condition called pre-eclampsia. High blood pressure and swelling are common warning signs, as one mother explained. When her midwife recognised the symptoms, she was immediately referred to hospital and she had an induction the next day.


Her midwife spotted symptoms of pre-eclampsia and the baby was induced next day. She was very...

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
Was it important to you to be able to go every 6 weeks?

Yeah, it was. And then towards the end you go every 2 weeks and then every week and, actually, my midwife spotted I had pre-eclampsia in the last 4 weeks of my pregnancy. And my midwife spotted it, because I, actually I went to my GP then for some blood tests and it didn't get through, the blood tests, by the time it had come through I was near the end of my pregnancy and I'd had pre-eclampsia 4 weeks beforehand. And, and my midwife appointment, they'd, they'd spotted it and sent me straight to the hospital and I was induced the next day. And so that was, you know, they really sort of, sort of helped me then, definitely.

Did you feel any different when you started to have the pre-eclampsia?

Not at all, no. I mean I was swollen anyway and my feet were swollen and my face was swollen but I thought that was quite normal. And also, I was working full-time to the Saturday and I had him on the Tuesday and I don't think that helped at all. I thought that's why I was swollen because I was, I'm a hairdresser and work, you know, on my feet. So that was, that was kind of it, really. I didn't have any symptoms at all but because, obviously it's high blood pressure, that's the main, the main symptom and you don't notice that at all, so.

Did you know what pre-eclampsia was?

I did, yeah, because I'd been to my antenatal classes and, you know, I'd read a lot of books and, you know, all that sort of business so I, you know, I was, I did vaguely know what it was [laughing].

Tell me how the, what happened at the midwife's appointment when they discovered that you had pre-eclampsia?

I went for your usual the old wee test and blood pressure and she had a poke around and, basically, they, they found it from the urine sample. And she literally, she literally phoned the hospital that minute and got me in there straightaway and, like I say, I was induced the next day so they were really quick.

How did she explain to you that you had pre-eclampsia?

Oh my God, basically just told me [laughing] pre, pre-eclampsia, basically. Because, you know, you, I knew, I knew what it was, so, but yeah, she just said, 'You've, you've got pre-eclampsia." I need to, to go up to the hospital straightaway.

How did you feel when she said, 'You have to go to the hospital now'?

Very scared, yeah, I was very, very nervous and my partner was at work. I was with one of my friends who was also pregnant at the time and she took me up to the hospital and I was, I was in, I was a mess [laughing].

Were you? Could you tell me about that, what happened, how were you feeling?

Just really, really scared, really scared. The, the fact that I knew I was going to be having my baby the next day rather than it happening naturally. And very, very anxious, definitely very anxious and, and worried about it. And just wanted my partner to be with me and, and to get it over and done with, [laughing] really.

And what happened in the hospital, what kind of care did you receive?

They were brilliant, again they were, they were really good. They took my blood pressure again and, you know, did all, did all the tests and they said that they would get me in the next day to be induced and they were all very calm and, you know, made me very calm. And then my partner arrived and

Another mother developed pre-eclampsia earlier in pregnancy. She already knew from the 20-week scan that her baby had a heart defect. When doctors found the baby's heart had slowed down and recommended an emergency caesarean she was afraid he might not survive.


The baby's heart slowed right down and the doctors decided to do an emergency caesarean at 33...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
We got over there probably about eleven o'clock. They did another scan and they found out that his heart had slowed right down, and that they couldn't wait to induce me. So they brought me straight into the operating theatre as soon as I got there, did an epidural, got that working. And I can just remember sobbing my heart out. I mean, I was absolutely terrified - not for myself but for my son, thinking that he's only thirty-three weeks and the longer he stays in there the bigger he'll get, the more likely he is to survive. 

I mean, I literally, I remember sitting on the bed and I was sobbing my heart out, while they were trying to put this epidural in my back. And at ten past, nine minutes past twelve - I, we'd only been there an hour and ten minutes - my son was born. And I remember when, when he was born and I couldn't hear anything, and they, they took him away [clears throat] - because I'm, I was, I, you could feel the sensation of them pulling, pulling about my stomach. And after a couple of minutes - and obviously you don't know what they're doing down there - but I just remember saying, 'I haven't heard him cry.' And one of them just shouted, 'Oh, don't worry, he's fine.' But they'd taken him off. He had to be revived. He was very blue.

She developed symptoms of pre-eclampsia from 30 weeks, including swelling, high blood pressure,...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
Well, I'd always had, because they check your protein and your blood pressure and everything throughout the pregnancy, I mean, I'm quite lucky that I've got a normally low blood pressure. Well, I'm told I'm quite lucky that I've got that, anyway. But around about thirty weeks I started swelling. My legs and my feet swelled and I just started feeling even more generally unwell than I had done the whole of the pregnancy. And they, they, I'd had protein in my urine pretty much for about ten or eleven weeks before that. 

And I remember going in one day for a check-up, seeing the obstetrician, and him saying, 'Oh, we're going to have to take you in.' And I said, 'Why?' and they said, 'Well, your blood pressure's shot up, you've got protein in your urine and we think you're getting this condition called pre-eclampsia, which I'd heard of but not really taken much notice of, because I thought, there's no way, again, that it can happen to me. So they brought me in, and it's really funny because I, I felt fine. I felt OK. But the minute that they - again, this could be psychological, I don't know - the minute they got me into the ward, the blood pressure really did start shooting up, and I noticed the difference. But they told me things like you get black spots in front of your eyes, and I had had that, but not taken any notice of it. Blinding flashes and really severe headaches, but I just thought it was all part of it. I mean, I'm very good at, if I know that I've got something or there's a chance that I've got something, I will go out, all out and read, read up about it. And although I'd heard of pre-eclampsia I'd never, never thought that it would happen. And they brought me in, tried to control it with some tablets, but obviously because my son had a heart condition, it wasn't severe pre-eclampsia but it was enough to make his heart beat start slowing down, which is the reason that they said that they would have to deliver him.

These women were advised it was best to have the baby straightaway, but another mother (who had epilepsy) was monitored in hospital for a week before she was induced.


When pre-eclampsia was diagnosed at 36 weeks, she was kept in hospital for a week and monitored...

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
They monitored my urine as normal, and it was worryingly high. And I saw the registrar and she said, "I'm not sure, I think you need to come in tomorrow and we need to look at this again.' And she said, "But I'll put you, you know, if you wait another half an hour you'll see Professor who runs the unit.' And I saw him, and he said, "You're not going home. You know, this is too high.' The risks - my blood pressure was actually fine, but the pre-eclampsia - what they thought was pre-eclampsia starting was in the, was the protein in my urine, which had reached four, which is apparently incredibly high. All these things you discover. And he said, "I want you to go home and be back by 3.30 to book - you know, to - and you're not going anywhere, and we'll see how you are when we deliver the baby.' So gone were all thoughts of how I'm going to have this baby. I was sort of, "Oh my God, the nursery's not ready. I haven't bought the sheets and" you know. So I go home and teach my husband how to work the washing machine.

Was he with you?

Yes. Which was actually not - because we went so often, and he works, you know, a reasonable distance away, he was with me because we thought we were going to go and see an anaesthetist and things, whereas a lot of them I'd been to on my own, or my mum had taken me to a couple, and you know. So that was a fluke, really. And we went out and had a nice lunch, came home, packed, and in I went and cried my eyes out. But the reason they were worried about the pre-eclampsia - I missed that bit - was because pre-eclampsia can trigger seizures. And that is the, that is what happens, if it gets very, very bad. And with my tendency to seizures anyway, they were worried about the two, which was why the professor said, "You're staying in", and the registrar had thought we might think about it for a while. And, and so I arrive, and they can't put you in a room on your own, which a lot of the, you know, people on this special floor were in, because I might have a seizure. So you can never be on your own, so you have to be in a ward with four of you. So, which, you know, is fine, but I was distraught, just beside myself. And it was horrible in there, just ghastly. And it was sweltering, absolutely sweltering. And we were - the one godsend was that the hospital has beautiful gardens, and every night my husband came with dinner. So he'd go to work, come home, cook dinner, put it in the car and bring it up, and we'd have a picnic every night. So they monitored me every day. 

You had to do a twenty-four hour urine collection, which really sorts out how bad your protein levels are. And I'd have my blood pressure taken about twice a day, I think it was. And your weight. And all of that was being monitored. And my blood pressure would go up and down a bit, but never - there were girls in there with me whose blood pressure was well over a hundred, and they were on, you know, drugs for it which were, made you very strange and made you feel very unwell. So I felt absolutely fine. Which is the sort of worrying thing about it, really, because I'd have friends coming in and, you know, having, tea in the garden, and, you know, and I had to keep having to say to myself, " Oh, I ought to be having a little rest.' And I'm just getting bigger; huge. My legs, my arms, my face.

I'm just blowing up in this heat, with all of this water retention, and I'm looking like - my husband said that I could have made an umbrella stand out of my legs, like umbrella stands of elephants. So, and every day you would go and have the baby monitored for half an hour and checked that it was all right. And really, I'd gone in at thirty six weeks, and they wanted to get me to thirty seven, because that's the time that they feel that the baby is, is ready

Placenta praevia/placental abruption
Another worrying symptom in later pregnancy is bleeding. This may be caused by harmless changes to the cervix, but it can also indicate a more serious conditions such as placental abruption (when part of the placenta becomes detached from the uterus) or placenta praevia (when the placenta is low-lying and may block the cervix). It is always important to consult a doctor or midwife about bleeding in later pregnancy.

One mother in her second pregnancy was told her placenta was low-lying but she was able to stay at home apart from two nights in hospital. She had a caesarean birth the previous time, and was deciding whether to try a vaginal birth next time, but this would not have been an option if the placenta had remained low-lying. (The placenta itself does not move, but as the uterus grows, the area to which the placenta is attached stretches upwards, and so a low-lying placenta may clear the cervix).


She had bleeding from a low-lying placenta. She stayed at home apart from two short stays in...

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
Well, I think I was thirty, thirty weeks, or thirty-one weeks. I just went to the loo and there was some dark blood there. And [baby noises, feeding] I had bled at fourteen weeks, but it was bright red. And I thought, 'Oh no', and you know having two miscarriages and everything, although I was pretty sure at that late stage that it wasn't going to, you know, nothing. I mean, even if I'd gone into labour there was a good chance of survival and everything. But, and luckily my husband was at home. He hadn't gone to, hadn't left for work, and I told him and I said, 'I think I'd better ring the hospital.' I mean there wasn't masses, but enough to be concerned about. And the midwife said, you know, 'Come straight in and we'll check you out.' And of course they kept me in. They like to keep you in for twenty-four hours just to monitor you and everything. And they were very good. 

They, you know, they monitor the baby's heartbeat and do all their checks and - I'm trying to think if I had a, I didn't have a - I went in twice, the second time I had, they scanned me as well. No, the first time they scanned me, because they wanted to, the consultant came in and checked me over and said, 'Go for a scan and we'll just-' [hesitate] They thought it was the placenta, probably, but they wanted to check, so that confirmed it. The placenta, there was - my placenta was lying down one side, right from my ribs down one side, and then the sort of tail of it was under the baby's head. And they, they were pretty sure that was what was causing the bleeding.

So at that stage was it actually covering the cervix or was it?

Yes, but just a very thin piece of it. It wasn't like the whole placenta was down the bottom. It was just like this sort of tail bit that was down there. 

And they sent me home after a day saying, you know, 'Just, if anything else happens come straight back in.' Because it stopped. The bleeding stopped. Then nothing for a week, and then the same thing happened again. So I rang them up. 'Come back in.' In fact I was at work and my maternity cover took me to hospital, which was very good of her [laugh]. So I went in, and again an overnight stop. And it's, it's very difficult, because like my husband was away and I have another child, you know, to look after, and to stay in overnight, it's not an easy thing to do. So there was a lot of logistical, you know, getting people to sort of babysit while my husband got home and everything. And again, they checked, they monitored everything and, you know, that, 'It seems to be ok.' 

And the next day the doctor said, 'Yes, you can go home, but you must come straight back in if it starts again' etcetera. I said, 'Well, it's really difficult to come, to come in. I live a long way away. I've got another child and, you know, my husband works away and.' He said 'Well, if the blood is dark it's not too much of a worry. So just ring and we'll talk to you about it.' And it did happen several times over the next few weeks, but I rang them up and they, you know, they sort of said, 'Well, if it's not going mad and it's not fresh blood, not to worry.' And after a couple of weeks it just stopped. And they'd booked me in for a scan at thirty-six weeks, and on that scan found out that the placenta had shifted out of the way. It doesn't actually move as such, but as your uterus expands it moves with it, so it kind of, just that little bit got out of the way. Because that would have blown the natural delivery out of the window, because that would have been a C-section.

For women who already had other children, the prospect of having to stay in hospital for several weeks raised many practical difficulties, as well as anxiety about the pregnancy and the baby. On the other hand, as this mother pointed out, it was good to know she was in the right place if anything did suddenly go wrong. She, and others who spent some time in hospital before birth, valued the camaraderie and support of other women sharing the same experience.


From 30 weeks she had to stay in hospital because she had placenta praevia. She was allowed home...

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Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
Well I don't know, I suppose it's one of those, I was happy to go through anything if I could end up with the baby I wanted at the end of it, I suppose. So if I had to put up with it, I had to put up with it, and you know, you just have to make the best of it, don't you? OK, I had to spend from twenty nine weeks in hospital, but you know, when I had a big bleed one day at 5 o'clock in the morning, I was jolly glad to be in hospital. You know, I wasn't in there - I was in there for my own sake, and I could understand that. Whereas some people are, you know, very anti being in hospital, I just accepted it and, you know, I suppose.

Were you able to go home between the scan?

Yes, they let me go home at the weekends in the end, because when I went, I got admitted because I was bleeding. They kept me in until I could have a scan, which, because the weekend came in the middle, was about four days later. Scanned me and said, 'OK, you're grade four,' which is the worst-case scenario, where the placenta's right over the cervix. And luckily I'd already talked to my midwife about this when they'd mentioned it, because I didn't know what placenta praevia was before. She'd explained about the gradings and what was the likely scenario, and if you're grade four she said to me, 'You'll be in hospital from thirty weeks,' so there it was following on quite nicely with her predictions, you know. She didn't know what grade I was, but her explanation had followed true. 

Well, I think when I'd phoned to say I was bleeding, they'd said, 'Come in with an overnight bag" you know. "Be prepared.' So because I'd talked about placenta praevia, I suppose I knew that this might be it, sort of thing. Then I think after a couple of weeks I was allowed to go home at the weekend, because I'd had a big bleed, where I'd been glad to be in there, because there'd been all this risk about having the baby at thirty weeks and everything, and I'd, I'd had one of those of steroid injections, just in case, you know, whatever. And then I think things settled down and I didn't bleed again. I don't think I ever bled again in fact after that, until I actually had, you know, had the baby. So they let, my consultant let me go home at the weekend. I came back to sleep in the hospital, but I went home in the day. 

And he sort of said his approach was that, 'OK, that's, you know, it's good for your sanity, but we're not risking too much.' And as I actually only live five minutes from the hospital and I had to have telephone number so we could ring in, if something happened, and I was appropriately equipped, you know. Lest we have to rush back I would have my bag packed here ready and whatever. So it was, you know, a risk he, worth taking he felt, you know, to make life a bit more bearable, I suppose, especially as we had a daughter at home, so, you know, huge upheaval to family life while you're in hospital, so.

I was going to say, you know, it must have been very hard having a daughter and not being at home?

Oh yes. I mean, my husband was brilliant, my daughter was brilliant, my family were brilliant, you know. We couldn't have done it, done it without any, any of those people really, wonderful support there.

Was she at school during the day?

Yes, luckily she was at school. 

I think there was only, I'm not sure if there were any holidays actually, apart from just when she broke up for Christmas just right at the end, so, which, you know, was fortunate as well, really. So, that was good. At least, you know, most of the day she had normal days, like s

See also 'Rarer complications'.

Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated August 2010.

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