Prenatal care is the treatment of a woman and her unborn child during pregnancy. It is never too early to begin prenatal care and set the foundation for a healthy pregnancy. From the beginning of your first trimester until the birth of your baby, your OB-GYN is your partner for health and wellness. You should schedule your first obstetric appointment as soon as you discover that you have become pregnant. Your obstetrician will confirm your pregnancy and depending on whether your pregnancy is considered high risk, may ask you to return for prenatal appointments monthly, bimonthly, or according to a schedule designed to offer you the healthiest pregnancy possible.
Did you know…
that mothers who do not get prenatal care have three times as many low birth weight babies as women who do seek prenatal treatment? Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that fetus and infant mortality is five times higher among women who do not get prenatal care.
If I feel healthy. Do I need prenatal care?
Yes. Prenatal care is about more than your health – it’s about your baby’s health too! Throughout your pregnancy, your obstetrician will routinely screen you for diseases and conditions that could threaten your health or the health of your baby. These screenings begin in the first trimester and continue up until birth, so make an appointment to see your obstetrician as soon as you become pregnant.
How often do I need Prenatal Visits?
As soon as a woman discovers she is pregnant, she should establish a schedule of prenatal care with her gynecologist for her entire pregnancy. For normal pregnancies without significant complications, prenatal exams are usually scheduled as follows:
- Every month from the 1st week through the 28th week
- Every two weeks from the 29th week through the 36th week
- Weekly from the 37th week until delivery
This schedule may vary depending on your personal medical condition and your gynecologist’s preference. Additional prenatal care may be necessary if there are any preexisting medical conditions, like diabetes, present in the mother or if complications arise while carrying the baby to term.
What is a preconception care checkup?
If you are planning to become pregnant, it is a good idea to have a preconception care checkup. The first 8 weeks of pregnancy are key for the fetus growing inside you. Most of the fetus’s major organs and body systems begin to form in this time. Your health and nutrition can affect your fetus’s growth and development in these early weeks.
The goal of preconception checkup is to find things that could affect your planned pregnancy. Identifying these factors before pregnancy allows you to take steps that can increase the chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. During this visit, your health care professional will ask about your diet and lifestyle, your medical and family history, medications you take, and any past pregnancies. (For more details see “How to Plan and Prepare for a Healthy Pregnancy“)
What should I expect at my prenatal care visits?
Your obstetrician will likely adhere to the prenatal care guidelines established by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Your first visit may be one of your longest though you will visit your obstetrician multiple times over the course of your pregnancy. Your first visit will consist of a review of your health history, a physical examination, blood type and Rh testing, HIV screening, and a host of other lab tests. You may also need an updated pap smear and immunizations to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Finally, your obstetrician will offer tips and advice for a healthy pregnancy and schedule your next visit – usually during the first part of your second trimester. Future prenatal visits will consist of weight measurement, fundal height measurements, and blood pressure screenings, as well as urine tests, sonograms and additional lab testing as needed.
Are there any instructions I need to follow between prenatal care visits to ensure a healthy pregnancy?
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, talk with your OB-GYN about steps you should be taking to protect the health of you and your baby. Examples include:
- Taking a prenatal vitamin
- Avoiding foods high in mercury
- Getting a flu shot
- Avoiding hot tubs or saunas
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Avoiding alcohol and excessive caffeine consumption
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Optimizing your sleep position
- Avoiding contact with kitty litter
- Taking a childbirth education class