Routine prenatal care is an important part of ensuring a healthy pregnancy and the safe delivery of your baby. Pregnancy is a dynamic time and routine prenatal care allows health providers to monitor fetal development and maternal well-being. Usually, routine prenatal care is just that – routine – but if a medical issue arises at any time throughout the pregnancy, regular doctor appointments enable care providers to identify issues early and administer immediate, individualized care.
The First Prenatal Appointment
The first prenatal care appointment is exciting and busy. A nurse practitioner or doctor will take a detailed medical history including a discussion of any preexisting conditions, medication use, and whether or not changes to your current health regimen need to be made. You will also receive a physical and a pelvic exam and your projected due date will be determined, usually by counting out 40 weeks from your last period. In some cases, an early ultrasound may be needed, though this is not typically provided at the first doctor’s visit.
At your initial pregnancy care appointment, your medical provider will order a series of labs including blood work and urine tests. These are important – but general – tests and not a cause for concern; however, your doctor will discuss options if you want to undergo additional testing for abnormalities. You should always feel comfortable discussing your personal values and desires with your health care provider and specifying the kind of pregnancy experience you hope to have.
Your first prenatal care appointment is a great opportunity to find out how to have a healthy pregnancy and discuss specific guidelines for work, exercise, diet, prenatal vitamins, and travel. Come prepared with any questions or concerns you have, and feel free to bring your partner along so they can participate actively throughout the pregnancy, too.
What to Expect in Routine Prenatal Care
After the first prenatal appointment, you should visit your care provider once every four weeks during the first two trimesters. Upon entering the third trimester, appointments should be scheduled for once every two weeks and visit frequency should increase to once a week for the last month of pregnancy, unless your care provider determines otherwise.
At each prenatal care appointment, medical staff will take your blood pressure, check the fetal heartbeat, and order lab work to ensure that you and your baby are doing well. Toward the end of the second trimester, you will also need to have glucose screening to test for gestational diabetes and your blood count will be evaluated for anemia.
An ultrasound is typically preformed around 18 to 20 weeks to assess fetal development and at this point you can usually find out the sex of your baby. This ultrasound is usually the only one done in a pregnancy unless your doctor determines that you need an additional ultrasound, but that will be determined on an individual basis.
As your pregnancy enters the third trimester, it is recommended that you visit the hospital where you plan to deliver and register for childbirth, newborn care, and breastfeeding classes. It is also advised that as you get closer to giving birth, you should make arrangements regarding important childcare decisions so that everything is in order by the time your baby arrives.
At your last few prenatal care appointments, you will discuss labor signs and review your birth plan. Your healthcare provider will also ask if your baby is moving around frequently and you may have your cervix checked to determine if you are showing signs of going into labor. A vaginal swab is also done on most women to check for Group B Streptococcus, which if positive, requires antibiotics during labor to prevent transmission to your baby.
Benefits of Routine Prenatal Care
Every woman hopes that her pregnancy will progress normally, but sometimes health issues do arise. In highly developed countries like the United States, it is easy to forget that pregnancy and childbirth come with some inherent health risks, and there can be significant consequences to not receiving adequate medical services. Fortunately, routine pregnancy care can prevent or manage many complications and it unequivocally reduces health risks to both the mother and child. Make prenatal care a priority in your pregnancy.
Routine Prenatal Care is a Safety Net & Support System
Prenatal care is one of the best things you can do to ensure the healthiest possible pregnancy for both you and your baby, but it also has benefits after you give birth. When you receive vital prenatal services throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy, you develop meaningful relationships with your healthcare providers. The obstetricians and nurse practitioners who helped you through your pregnancy will have a personal understanding of your whole pregnancy journey, and they will be equipped to help you through your postpartum care, and future family planning choices.