Prenatal Care - What Is It, What to Expect, and How Often to Do It.
Pregnancy is an exciting time. Your thoughts and emotions can range from the joy of bringing a new life into the world to concerns about protecting your baby and having a healthy pregnancy. These concerns aren’t unfounded; while most pregnancies progress without issue, around 8% involve complications that may harm you or your baby.
Fortunately, prenatal care appointments allow your obstetrician to monitor your health and the health and development of your baby and take swift action if any signs of complications arise.
What is prenatal care?
Let’s start with the basics. Prenatal visits are the checkups and tests you have periodically during your pregnancy. In addition to monitoring your baby’s development and your health as your body changes to accommodate the new life growing inside it, these appointments are also a valuable opportunity to ask your health care provider about what to expect and how to stay healthy.
Why is prenatal care important during pregnancy?
Your baby’s growth begins as just two cells join and multiply to form an embryo, and in just 40 weeks, those cells turn into a new human. At the same time, your body changes significantly to accommodate your baby.
You go through hormonal changes; your uterus grows up to 18 times its normal size, your blood volume increases by up to 50%, and your ligaments loosen. With all this rapid change, prenatal medical care is critical to identifying any potential pregnancy complications or health issues and taking action to protect you and your baby.
Pregnancy care can help you lower your risk factors for complications. For example, your doctor can provide advice on diet and exercise, as well as vitamins and supplements like folic acid to help you and your baby stay healthy. In addition, they can advise on avoiding potentially harmful substances and conditions.
Your doctor will also help control any existing health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, or thyroid disease, which can cause health issues or lead to low birth weight or congenital disabilities.
What are the basics of prenatal checkups?
You should schedule your first prenatal visit as soon as you discover you’re pregnant. Your doctor can confirm your pregnancy and estimate your due date. They review your family health history, perform a physical exam, and order blood tests and a urine sample to screen for any health issues and identify your blood type. Your doctor also:
- Measures your height and weight
- Checks your blood pressure, pulse, and respiration
- Performs a pelvic exam, Pap test, and STD screening
- Offers diet and exercise advice
At your follow-up visits, your doctor will check your weight and vital signs, measure the growth of your belly, listen to the fetal heartbeat, and feel your belly to check the position of your baby. You will also have ultrasound exams and specific genetic testing at various points during your pregnancy.
If you’re between the ages of 18-35 years old and are healthy, you will then have prenatal appointments every four to six weeks for the first 32 weeks of pregnancy, then every two to three weeks between the 32nd and 37th weeks, and finally weekly appointments until you have your baby.
You may need more frequent appointments if you’re over 35 or have any other potentially harmful health issues. However, you don’t need to panic if your doctor says you have a high-risk pregnancy. This simply means that your provider will monitor your health more closely, and you may need additional tests. Most high-risk pregnancies are complication-free and lead to healthy babies.
Who can you go to for prenatal care?
You can count on the obstetricians and gynecologists at Maiden Lane Medical for expert women’s health care, including pre-pregnancy and prenatal care. Your prenatal care provider offers screening tests, prenatal tests, and advice to help you have a healthy baby. The team helps you keep yourself and your baby healthy from early pregnancy until delivery.
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