Prenatal Care at a Glance
- Medical care especially for pregnant woman
- Important for a healthy pregnancy
- Includes regular checkups and prenatal testing
- Best to begin as soon as you know you are pregnant
The key to having a healthy baby is taking good care of your own health. The healthier you are, the stronger you and your baby are likely to be.
We all want to be healthy, but sometimes it is hard to know what we should do. If you are pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, you may have some questions. Here are some of the most commons questions we hear women ask about prenatal care.
What Is Prenatal Care?
Prenatal care is the care you receive from a health care provider, such as a doctor or midwife, during pregnancy. During prenatal care visits, your health care provider will make sure you and the developing fetus are healthy and strong. These regular checkups are your chance to learn how to manage the discomforts of pregnancy, have any testing you may need, learn warning signs, and ask any questions you may have.
It’s best to begin before you are pregnant — this is sometimes called pre-pregnancy health or preconception planning. But if that is not possible, begin prenatal care as soon as you know you’re pregnant.
How Often Will I Have Prenatal Care Visits?
If you are 18 to 35 years old and healthy, you will probably have a “low-risk” pregnancy. If so, plan to have prenatal care visits about
- every four or six weeks, from the first to seventh month of pregnancy (the first 28 weeks)
- every two or three weeks in the eighth month (from week 28 to 36)
- every week in the ninth month (from week 36 until delivery)
If you have a high-risk pregnancy, your health care provider may ask you to come in for prenatal care more often.
What Will Happen During My First Prenatal Care Visit?
The first prenatal care visit is usually the longest. The examination is very thorough. You will be asked questions about your medical history. You will also be asked about your partner’s medical history and your family’s medical history. You will have a complete physical exam. Your health care provider will measure your height, weight, blood pressure, breathing, and pulse.
Usually, you will be given a gynecological exam that will include
You may be offered blood or skin tests to check for
- anemia — including sickle cell anemia
- blood type
- certain inherited diseases, such as Gaucher’s and Tay-Sachs
- cystic fibrosis
You may also be given urine tests to check for diabetes or other infections.
Tell your doctor or nurse if you traveled to a country with Zika or think your partner has Zika. They may test you for Zika and check to see if the baby has it, too.
Your health care provider may take this opportunity to discuss your lifestyle and habits and to suggest certain changes that may help make the pregnancy healthy. One of the most important things a woman can do is to take folic acid — a B vitamin — every day to prevent serious birth defects.
Diet, Exercise, and Lifestyle Changes During Pregnancy
Many pregnant women have questions about diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes during pregnancy. Prenatal care visits are the perfect time to discuss these concerns with your health care provider.
Many women choose to make lifestyle changes before they become pregnant. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and, if you smoke, drink, or do drugs, quitting those activities, are all important things a woman can do to help have the healthiest pregnancy possible.
What is Prenatal Testing?
Your health care provider may offer you certain tests during your pregnancy. These tests are used to make sure that you are healthy and the fetus is doing well. Some tests identify possible birth defects.What Is Prenatal Testing?
The different tests are done at certain times. Your health care provider will let you know what tests you may want or need, and when you will need them.
Some common prenatal tests for birth defects and other abnormalities include
- multiple marker screening
- CVS — chorionic villus sampling
Another common test is the biophysical profile (BPP). It is most commonly given during the third trimester. The BPP uses ultrasound combined with a fetal monitor to observe fetal heartbeat and movement. BPP allows your health care provider to evaluate the well-being of the fetus.
What Is an Ultrasound?
Ultrasound allows a health care provider to take pictures of the embryo or fetus as it develops. An ultrasound scan builds a picture of the embryo or fetus on a screen by bouncing sound waves into your uterus. Ultrasound is also called a sonogram. Depending on when it is done during pregnancy, it may
- confirm your due date
- find certain abnormalities
- find multiple pregnancies
- measure the length of your cervix
- show the position and size of the fetus
- show the position of the placenta
Ultrasound is a very safe procedure — no x-rays are involved.
Between 11 and 13 weeks of pregnancy, some providers combine a blood test with a special kind of ultrasound. Some providers refer to this as the combined test. It is used to screen for Down syndrome and other genetic birth defects.
How Ultrasound Is Done
There are two ways to do an ultrasound — through the abdomen or through the vagina. Ultrasounds may be performed by your health care provider or by a trained ultrasound technician.
During an abdominal ultrasound, your provider will place the ultrasound wand on your abdomen, using a small amount of gel to help lubricate the area. You may feel pressure during the exam, but it is not painful.
During a vaginal ultrasound, your provider will insert the ultrasound wand into the vagina. This may feel similar to a vaginal exam. You may feel pressure during the exam, but it is not painful.