Prenatal Care: What to Expect, and When to Expect It.

Anyone thinking about becoming pregnant should also be thinking about prenatal care. This care is important for the mother’s health and the health of the child. Ideally, it should begin prior to pregnancy.

Schedule a visit with your health care provider prior to pregnancy to: 

  • Review your immunizations 
  • Start a prenatal vitamin with folic acid (which can prevent certain birth defects if begun prior to pregnancy)
  • Have a thorough checkup. 

Once you are pregnant, regular prenatal care visits during pregnancy are just as important to your baby’s future health as regular visits for well-child exams after birth.

A first prenatal visit, best done before the 12th week of pregnancy, typically involves:

  • A physical exam 
  • A pelvic exam
  • Lab work (on blood and urine)
  • Sexually transmitted infection screening (to check for Hepatitis B, syphilis, chlamydia, and HIV)
  • A Pap smear test. 

Your health care provider calculates your approximate due date at this first visit. Often, an ultrasound will be ordered to confirm how far along the pregnancy is. If you are at least 10 weeks pregnant, your health care provider might listen for the heartbeat. This can be difficult before 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Subsequent prenatal visits are every four to eight weeks until you are 28 weeks pregnant. At all prenatal visits, you can expect your health care provider to:

  • Weigh you
  • Check the size of your uterus
  • Check your blood pressure
  • Listen to the baby’s heart rate

An ultrasound at about 20 weeks is often done to view the baby’s organs and measure growth of the baby and the placenta.

Around 15 to 22 weeks, blood tests are available to screen for genetic and spinal cord abnormalities. At 26 to 28 weeks, expect to have blood tests to check for anemia and be encouraged to take a glucose challenge test to check for gestational diabetes.

From weeks 28 to 38, prenatal visits are every two to four weeks. The baby’s position will be checked to make sure the baby is pointing head down.

After 38 weeks, prenatal visits are weekly until delivery. Your health care provider may want to check your cervix for dilation and thinning as you get close to your due date or if you go past it without delivering.

A healthy baby depends on taking good care of yourself. Stay physically active, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and an otherwise healthy diet, drink lots of water, take your prenatal vitamins, get good sleep, and see your doctor at WHASN throughout pregnancy.

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