Women expecting baby

10 Major Prenatal & Newborn Complications To Watch Out For

A quick guide to the 10 major prenatal and newborn complications that you should be aware of. 

Congratulations - You’re pregnant! Awww… you must be feeling a lot of joy and are excited about this new person you’ll bring into the world. However, let’s be honest here, you’re also terrified that something may go wrong, right? It’s OKAY. These feelings are normal. 

Pregnancy complications can happen to any of us, which is why it's helpful to know possible complications that can affect you and your baby. 

Again, this article isn’t meant to scare you, but to provide answers to some of your what-ifs. With the help of Prudential, here’s a quick guide to the 5 major prenatal and newborn complications that you should be aware of.

SIDE NOTE: The information provided here shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. So please consult your doctor immediately if you have any concerns. 

So, what are some of the major prenatal complications?  


1. Eclampsia 

What is eclampsia?

A life-threatening complication, it causes a pregnant woman - usually previously diagnosed with preeclampsia (a disorder of high blood pressure in pregnancy) - to develop seizures or other complications. Bear in mind that you may be at risk of eclampsia if you’re older than 35 years, have chronic hypertension (high blood pressure), are pregnant with twins or triplets, have kidney disease, diabetes or if it’s your first pregnancy. 

SYMPTOMS of eclampsia

Some of the common signs before eclampsia happens are elevated blood pressure, swelling in your face or hands, headaches, excessive weight gain, nausea and vomiting, vision problems, difficulty urinating and abdominal pain (especially in the right upper abdomen). Leading up to eclampsia, you’ll experience seizures, or loss of consciousness.

Why is eclampsia DANGEROUS?

This condition can affect the placenta, which is the organ that delivers oxygen and nutrients from your blood to the fetus. When high blood pressure reduces blood flow through the vessels, the placenta may be unable to function properly. This may result in your baby being born with low birth weight or other health problems. Meanwhile, complication for mothers can be quite severe, which includes the risk of death. 

2. Amniotic Fluid Embolism 

What is amniotic fluid embolism?

It occurs when amniotic fluid (the fluid that surrounds your baby in the uterus), fetal cells, hair or other debris enters into the maternal bloodstream and trigger an inflammatory response. This usually happens during labour or shortly after giving birth in both vaginal and cesarean births.

SYMPTOMS of amniotic fluid embolism?

Amniotic fluid embolism might develop suddenly and rapidly. Some of the signs may include sudden shortness of breath, low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, bleeding from the uterus, cardiovascular collapse (dysfunction of the heart), fetal heart rate abnormalities, seizures and loss of consciousness.

Why is amniotic fluid embolism DANGEROUS?

It can cause serious complications for you and your baby such as brain injury due to low blood oxygen, and infant or maternal death. 

3. Placental complications 

What are placental complications?

It occurs when amniotic fluid (the fluid that surrounds your baby in the uterus), fetal cells, hair or other debris enters into the maternal bloodstream and trigger an inflammatory response. This usually happens during labour or shortly after giving birth in both vaginal and cesarean births.

The placenta provides unborn babies with oxygen and nutrients from the mother’s blood in the womb. It’s an important organ vital for the baby’s survival. Placental complications can also be life-threatening to the expecting mother. Some placental complications that can occur include:

  • Placenta accreta - The placenta is growing too deep into the uterus wall. This can cause massive blood loss during or after the baby is born

  • Placental abruption - The placenta ‘peels’ from the uterus wall before you give birth.

  • Placenta praevia - The placenta covers the cervix. A C-section may be required if the placenta is still covering the cervix when its time for delivery.

  • Placental insufficiency - The placenta is not functioning to supply the baby with enough nutrients and oxygen

  • Retained placenta - The placenta remains in the womb after delivery because it’s still attached to the uterus or due to a blocked cervix.

Symptoms of placental complications

Signs that there might be complications with your placenta include:

  • Pain in the back or abdominal area

  • Bleeding from the vagina - this can be light to heavy depending on the type and severity of the complication.

 Sometimes there are no symptoms, and you only find out during routine ultrasounds or antenatal tests.

Why are placental complications dangerous?

Placental complications are dangerous because they can affect the baby’s growth in the womb. They can also cause massive blood loss during delivery, and infections and, thus, be life-threatening for both mother and baby.

What about newborn complications?

4. Jaundice

What is jaundice?

This occurs when your baby’s skin and eyes turn yellow, caused by excess bilirubin (hyperbilirubinemia), a yellow pigment produced during the normal breakdown of red blood cells. However, during this time the newborn’s liver is still developing and may not be mature enough to remove bilirubin. 

SYMPTOMS of jaundices

Mild jaundice may not be obvious to the eye - the yellowing of your baby’s skin and eyes, which may begin soon after birth and will spread down across the body. You can check this by lightly pressing your finger on the baby’s skin. Make sure that you examine your baby in good lighting condition. If the skin looks yellow where you pressed, it's likely your baby has jaundice.

Why is jaundice DANGEROUS?

In physiological jaundice, jaundice will disappear within 2 to 3 weeks. However, if it stays longer than 3 weeks, it may be a symptom of an underlying condition. This becomes a serious condition when the bilirubin levels increase. It can put a baby at risk for deafness, cerebral palsy, or other forms of brain damage. 

5. Severe measles 

Measles is caused by a highly contagious respiratory infection, also known as the rubeola virus. If your baby hasn’t been immunised and hasn’t had measles before, he/she is likely to catch it if he/she is exposed to it.

SYMPTOMS of measles

The first symptoms of measles infection are usually a hacking cough, runny nose, high fever, and red eyes. A more obvious early symptom is small, grey-white spots (which look like grains of sand/salt) inside your baby's mouth.

Why is measles DANGEROUS?

Measles can be dangerous, especially for babies and young children as it can lead to Pneumonia (a serious lung infection) - the most common cause of death from measles in young children as mentioned by the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

6. Down Syndrome 

What is Down Syndrome

This condition happens when the baby is born with an extra chromosome which leads to a range of issues that affect your baby both mentally and physically. Mothers who deliver at over 35 years of age may have a higher risk.

SYMPTOMS of Down Syndrome

The signs of Down Syndrome may vary from one person to another. That said, some of the common physical signs of Down Syndrome are decreased/poor muscle tone, short neck, flattened facial profile and nose, small head, ears, and mouth, upward slanting eyes and short hands with short fingers. 

Why is Down Syndrome DANGEROUS?

Well, it’s not life-threatening, but it’s not something to be taken lightly either. A person with Down Syndrome has slower cognitive and motor skills development like delay in speech development. 

Other than that, the baby might have health issues like a congenital heart defect, respiratory problems, hearing difficulties, Alzheimer's disease, childhood leukaemia, epilepsy and thyroid conditions. 

7. Birth defects

What are birth defects?

Birth defects refer to structural changes in parts of the body that are present at birth. They can be discovered before, after or at birth. Birth defects can be mild to severe and may affect how the body works or looks and, thus, the well-being of the child.

Common birth defects include:

  • Congenital heart defects - structural heart that affect the function of this important organ.

  • Hypospadias - the opening of the male baby’s urethra is on the underside of the penis rather than the tip, causing difficulty in urinating

  • Clubfoot - This is a common musculoskeletal birth defect where the foot turns inward abnormally.

  • Ventricular septal defect - A hole in the heart

  • Cleft lip/cleft palate - The lip of the baby doesn’t join completely. In severe cases, the opening may extend into the nose.

  • Limb defects - Abnormality in the arms or legs.


Symptoms of birth defects

Symptoms vary as there are numerous types of birth defects. Some are easy to see, for example, a cleft palate, while others are more difficult to spot, needing special tests for confirmation. For example, an echocardiogram is needed to determine a heart defect.

Why are birth defects dangerous?

Some birth defects are dangerous, while others affect the way a child looks. For example, a congenital heart defect that goes undetected can be life-threatening, in that the heart is a vital organ. Conversely, an extra toe affects how the baby’s body looks but may not be harmful to health.

8. Neurological disorders

What are neurological disorders in newborns?

Neonatal neurological conditions refer to nervous system issues that are present at birth or discovered shortly after. Neurological conditions in newborns can be due to numerous reasons, including disruption or injury to brain during development. These disorders can be serious with life-long effects.

Common neonatal neurological conditions include:

  • Seizures

  • Encephalopathy - this condition can cause feeding and breathing difficulties as it affects consciousness

  • Birth asphyxia - Lack of oxygen during, before or immediately after delivery.

  • Intracranial haemorrhage - Bleeding in the brain, which is more common in premature newborns.

  • Metabolic disorders of the brain - Disruption in biochemical reactions in the brain, affecting neurological function.

  • Congenital neurological defects - These conditions are usually due to brain or spinal cord malformations.

Symptoms of neurological disorders in newborns

As you would expect, different neurological disorders will present with different symptoms. However, common symptoms include:

  • Abnormal movements or seizures

  • Developmental delays

  • Difficulty feeding

  • Lethargy

  • Low or high alertness

  • Irritability

Why are neurological disorders in newborns dangerous?

Complications from neurological disorders range from mild to severe. Some children simply reach developmental milestones a little slower, while others have lifelong disabilities. Early diagnosis, treatment and intervention are vital to minimise the effects of neonatal neurological disorders.

9. Hypoglycemia

What is hypoglycemia in newborns?

Hypoglycemia refers to a condition where blood sugar/glucose levels are too low. Glucose is vital energy fuel for the human brain and body. Without it, the baby’s brain is at risk.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia in newborns

Symptoms of low glucose levels in babies are sometimes hard to spot. Common symptoms include:

  • Shakiness

  • Cyanosis - blue tint on the skin and lips

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Hypothermia - low body temperature

  • Poor muscle tone - the baby seems ‘floppy’

  • Poor appetite or no interest in feeding

  • Lethargy

  • Seizures

Why is hypoglycemia in newborns dangerous?

Hypoglycemia in newborns is dangerous as the baby’s brain requires glucose to function. Thus, low blood sugar levels can harm the brain. Severe hypoglycemia can result in seizures and serious or irreversible brain injury.

10. Breathing problems

What are breathing problems in newborns?

Newborns who struggle for air shortly after they are born may have a respiratory condition. There are numerous types of breathing problems that affect babies, including:

  • Neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (RDS)

  • Transient tachypnea of the newborn

  • Meconium aspiration syndrome

  • Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD)

  • Pneumonia

  • Pneumothorax

  • Apnea

  • Persistent pulmonary hypertension

  • Congenital lung malformations

Symptoms of breathing problems in newborns

Common symptoms of respiratory issues in babies include, but are not limited to:

  • Irregular or continuous rapid breathing

  • Flaring nostrils

  • Retracting - baby pulls in the chest at the rib or above the collar bones to take in air.

  • Grunting

  • Persistent coughing or choking

  • Cyanosis - a blue tint that can be a symptom of low oxygen levels.

Why are breathing problems in newborns dangerous?

Respiratory issues in newborns are dangerous as they can lead to complications such as

  • Collapsed lungs

  • Internal bleeding in the lungs

  • Lung scarring

  • Developmental disabilities due to lack of oxygen, which can range from mild to severe.


Hmm, I know I should get insurance coverage for my baby but… how early should I get it? 

There’s no such thing as too early when it comes to protection. To alleviate some of your worries, it’s good to get peace of mind in the form of insurance.

Prenatal insurance

Also known as maternity insurance or pregnancy insurance, prenatal insurance works to provide financial protection for mother and baby during and even after your baby is born. Prenatal insurance usually covers common pregnancy complications and hospitalisation due to serious pregnancy-related issues.

Nonetheless, it’s vital that you understand what your policy covers to ensure that you and your baby are fully protected. Always do your research and purchase only from trusted insurance companies.

Prudential prenatal insurance - PRUMy child plus

PRUMy child plus is a child protection solution that comes with PRUwith you (a regular premium investment-linked insurance plan) as its basic protection plan.

With Prudential’s PRUMy child plus, you can get early protection for your unborn baby from as early as 14 weeks old in the womb! That’s not the only good news - Prudential is the first insurer in Malaysia to offer coverage for IVF pregnancies. Besides your baby, this comprehensive solution also protects you.

You’ll be covered for Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) before the Policy Anniversary Date of age 70 or death of the Life Assured, whichever occurs first. 

What’s great about this plan is that you’re able to customise your plan by adding riders (optional coverage) according to your financial standing and protection needs. One rider that we’d recommend you to take is the prenatal rider, which is known as Infant Care Plus.

It will protect both mother and foetus with coverage like Pregnancy Care Benefit that covers against possible pregnancy complications before birth, while Child Care Benefit would provide coverage from incubation to hospitalisation due to selected congenital conditions including neonatal jaundice as well as other congenital conditions up to age 5. Upon diagnosis of neonatal jaundice that requires phototherapy treatment, a lump sum of RM500 or RM1,000 (depending on the plan taken up) will be paid out. 

** Some of the other riders available include Critical Illness Riders, Medical Riders, Payor Riders, Accidental Riders and Saving/Investment Riders.

Plus point to those who have already purchased a PRUMy child plus policy before, you’ll have the benefit of ‘Easy and Simple Enrolment’ (EASE) for your next pregnancy coverage. Simply put, you know longer need to go through the full underwriting process. For more info about the product, head over to Prudential’s page here or contact your Prudential Wealth PlannerYou can also read this article to understand more on insurance for pregnancy in Malaysia.

Why is prenatal insurance important?

If you’re wondering whether to purchase maternity insurance, here are some reasons you should:

  • It covers possible pregnancy complications that could arise. Prenatal insurance can give you peace of mind, especially if you have a health condition or family history of pregnancy complications.

  • It gives you the finances if you or your child needs extra hospital care. For example, if your baby is born prematurely.

  • It covers certain congenital defects, and, thus, helps cushion the blow of illnesses and conditions that might otherwise cost a large some to treat or correct.

  • With some insurers, a prenatal insurance policy will give your child headstart coverage. Your child may still be insurable if he or she has a congenital condition if you had prenatal insurance.

To wrap up this article, we’d like to remind you that while there are plenty of things to worry about, don’t forget to stop and smell the roses once in a while okay. All the best!