WHAT IS PRENATAL CARE?
Prenatal care is the healthcare a woman receives during her pregnancy. Because catching potential problems early can reduce the risk of complications, as soon as a woman suspects she may be pregnant she should make an appointment with her healthcare provider. Regular prenatal care can:
• Reduce pregnancy complications, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
• Help reduce fetus and infant complications.
• Help ensure medications taken are safe for the woman and her baby.
• Help ensure the mother’s and baby’s weights are in a healthy range with accurate nutritional information.
• Give information about labor and delivery options for the best delivery schedule for each mother.
WHY SHOULD YOU HAVE PRENATAL CARE?
Without this ongoing care with her healthcare professional, a woman won’t always know if something is wrong until it’s too late. With proper care, many problems can be averted before they occur.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The first visit is usually around 8 weeks from the first day of the last menstrual period (LMP).
The first visit usually includes a physical exam, which includes a weight check, and a urine sample. A blood test may also be done, and depending on the stage of the pregnancy, possibly an ultrasound. At this time the healthcare provider will discuss the mother’s health, the baby’s health, and any other questions about the pregnancy.
Follow-up visits are usually done once a month for the first 28 weeks, then once every 2 weeks to week 36. Weeks 36 through 40 include a visit each week. This schedule isn’t hard and fast, however. How often she is seen depends on each woman’s health picture. The doctor will see her more often if there were any health problems before her pregnancy or if problems develop during the pregnancy. There may also be additional tests to ensure that she and her baby stay healthy.
Follow-up visits include weight and blood pressure checks and a urine screen for sugar and protein. The mother’s abdomen will be measured and a Doppler used to listen for a heartbeat. A check for swelling of hands and feet is done. There may be other tests depending on the mother’s health and what her doctor sees. An ultrasound may be done at one of the visits, and questions about the baby’s movements are done.
Keeping a small notebook (or smartphone) for writing down questions as she thinks of them will help a new mother to remember what to ask her doctor at her next appointment.