Pregnancy can be an exciting experience for many women. But it also can be difficult and confusing, especially for women with a high-risk pregnancy.
Factors like a woman's age, her lifestyle, and preexisting conditions can all contribute to a high-risk pregnancy. During a high-risk pregnancy, a woman and her unborn child are at increased risk of problems during pregnancy or labor, like early birth or miscarriage.
"In a wealthy nation like the U.S., a healthy pregnancy and childbirth should be the norm, but every 12 hours, a woman dies from complications from pregnancy or giving birth," says Diana Bianchi, M.D., director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). "Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women are about three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause, compared to white women. Research also shows that up to 60% of these deaths are preventable."
Dr. Bianchi and her colleagues at NICHD have worked to increase the focus on maternal health research and address these health disparities. One promising approach is to incorporate more data to better understand and address the pregnancy health issues of women of color.
"Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women are about three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause."
- Diana Bianchi, M.D.
"I am particularly excited about emerging technologies and big data analytic methods, such as artificial intelligence," says NICHD researcher Nahida Chakhtoura, M.D. "I hope this will help integrate genome data [and] nutritional, social, and behavioral data so that we can learn more and inform prevention efforts and address health disparities."
NICHD also wants to better support pregnant women who have high-risk pregnancy conditions like gestational diabetes and obesity.
Recently, NICHD researchers launched a study to see whether drugs that treat heart disease might be effective for preventing preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is when a woman develops high blood pressure after her 20th week of pregnancy. The condition has many of the same risk factors as cardiovascular diseases, which could offer clues for treating pregnant women. NICHD-supported research is also testing whether drugs such as pravastatin—normally used to treat high cholesterol—can help prevent preeclampsia.
"One of the goals of our 2020 strategic plan is to improve pregnancy outcomes to maximize the lifelong health of women and their children," Dr. Chakhtoura says. "NICHD recently launched the Pregnancy for Every Body Initiative, since plus-size women are at a higher risk for pregnancy complications."
This online resource educates plus-size women and their providers on how to have open, nonjudgmental conversations about obesity during pregnancy. Its ultimate goal is to make sure that plus-size women know that pregnancy might affect them differently, so they can have healthy, safe pregnancies.