Synopsis: This post/article explains what people mean when they refer to prenatal care.
Prenatal care is preventive care recommended for women while they are pregnant. It is the best thing you can do to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Some women even choose to schedule a preconception visit to their health care professional when they are considering having a child. So what is prenatal care? Prenatal care involves regularly scheduled check-ups and prenatal testing, which allow doctors or midwives to treat and prevent potential health problems during pregnancy. It also helps by providing guidance and promoting a healthy lifestyle to benefit both mother and baby.
How often should I see my doctor?
Prenatal care helps to keep you and your developing fetus healthy and sets the stage for a healthy life for your newborn–provided you go early and often. You should see your health care provider, family doctor, obstetrician, gynecologist or midwife more often as your due date approaches. A typical prenatal schedule of appointments may look like this:
- One visit per month in weeks 4 – 28
- Two monthly visits for weeks 28 – 36
- Once weekly visits for weeks 36 to baby’s birth
Pregnant women over 35 years, very young women or those considered higher risk due to other health conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, will see their doctor more often.
Why is prenatal care important?
Prenatal care helps ensure that any problems with your health or baby’s are prevented or treated immediately. Early care also provides emotional support for the pregnant woman and reduces stress by keeping the expectant mother informed about her health and that of her developing baby.
“Babies born to mothers who receive no prenatal care are three times more likely to be born at low birth weight and five times more likely to die, than those whose mothers received prenatal care,” according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
What does prenatal care entail?
During the first prenatal visit, your medical provider will perform a full physical exam, take blood for lab screenings and diagnostic tests and calculate your baby’s due date. Your doctor may also do breast and pelvic examinations (of your uterus and cervix), along with a Pap test. Your medical team will ask questions about your lifestyle, relationships and health habits, and provide guidance.
Your next few prenatal visits will include:
- Monitoring your blood pressure and weight.
- Checking the baby’s heart rate.
- Checking fetal growth by measuring your abdomen.
- Testing for anemia, gestational diabetes and infection.
- Answering your questions about your pregnancy.
- An ultrasound exam may be done at 18 to 20 weeks to check for proper growth, confirming fetal age and perhaps the sex of your baby.
- At 28 weeks and beyond, you’ll be instructed on how to monitor your baby’s movement. If the baby is less active than normal, you should call your doctor.
- Additional tests conducted during your pregnancy may include urine tests, additional ultrasounds and other tests depending upon your medical history and risk factors.
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