Congratulations, you are having a baby! It is important to start your prenatal care as soon as you suspect you are pregnant. Prenatal care monitors the health of both you and the fetus, catches potential health problems before they become serious, and allows you to follow the progress of your baby’s development. You can receive prenatal care through a family physician, obstetrician or nurse-midwife. Your prenatal care provider will also be able to present you with information on nutrition, physical activity, labor expectations, counseling and support, and basic skills for caring for your newborn. The importance of prenatal care is significant. Compared to babies of mothers who receive prenatal care, babies of mothers who do not receive prenatal care are three times more likely to have low birth weight and five times more likely to die.
What to Expect
During routine prenatal care visits, your doctor or mid-wife will run blood tests, take urine samples and check your weight, blood pressure, the position of your fetus, and if you need any vaccinations. During your first visit your provider may be able to calculate your due date and your official countdown can begin! Your provider will perform many other tests as well. The most common ones are ultrasound and amniocentesis.
Ultrasound: You have most likely already heard the term “ultrasound” before, well in prenatal care ultrasounds are part of routine care and provide dimensional images of the fetus and its world inside the womb. At around 18-20 weeks into your pregnancy, ultrasounds can provide a detailed look at the fetus, identify multiple pregnancies, detect major birth defects and reveal your baby’s gender. The procedure may be done at other times as needed. Your provider will perform the ultrasound by moving a handheld device, called a transducer, across your belly or by inserting a probe into your vagina; the transducer or probe will emit sound waves to show a picture of your baby on a screen.
Amniocentesis: The results from an amniocentesis test can identify down syndrome or genetic conditions. This test can also reveal if your baby’s lungs are strong enough to breathe normally after birth. An amniocentesis test is usually performed between 15-20 weeks. For this test, your provider will remove cells from your uterus to be examined. The procedure is recommended for women over 35 years old, for those have a family history of genetic disorders, and/or have a previous child with a birth defect. After this test your provider will be more able to decide which method of delivery is best for you and your baby.
Other tests include:
- Chorionic villus sampling (CVS)
- Cystic Fibrosis Carrier Screening
- Glucose Screening
- Maternal Blood Screening
- Cordocentesis (PUBS)
Prenatal care schedule: Generally, if your doctor or midwife determines your pregnancy to be high risk, your prenatal care will probably be more frequent. However, it is standard to receive care:
· About once each month during your first six months of pregnancy
· Every two weeks during the seventh and eighth month of pregnancy
· Weekly in the ninth month of pregnancy
Other aspects of prenatal care: Aside from running tests, your prenatal care provider will help make sure you and your baby stay healthy throughout the pregnancy by providing you with prenatal vitamins. He or she will also talk to you about a birthing plan and help you determine where you will give birth and what preparations you need to do, such as taking birthing classes. It’s important that you trust your provider and she him or her as a source of support. You can never ask too many questions! Each practice and provider may have a slightly different way of doing things. It’s important to follow whatever schedule and guidelines your provider suggests.