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Prenatal care

  • Prenatal care is the care you get while you’re pregnant.
  • Regular prenatal care helps keep you and baby healthy.
  • A doctor, midwife or other health provider gives this care.
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Choosing your prenatal care provider

Prenatal care is medical care you get during pregnancy. At each visit, your prenatal care provider checks on you and your growing baby. The first step in getting prenatal care is choosing your provider. 

Who can you go to for prenatal care?

You can choose who your prenatal care provider is. These kinds of providers can take care of you during pregnancy and deliver your baby:

  • An obstetrician (also called OB) is a doctor who has special education and training to take care of pregnant women and deliver babies. About 8 in 10 pregnant women choose an obstetrician as their prenatal care provider. The America College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists can help you find an OB in your area. 
  • A family practice doctor is a doctor who can take care of every member of your family. A family practice doctor can take care of you before, during and after pregnancy and can deliver your baby. The American Board of Family Medicine can help you find a family practice doctor in your area. 
  • A midwife is a health care provider who has special education and training to take care of women of all ages, including pregnant women. Make sure your midwife is certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board or the International Confederation of Midwives. These include certified nurse-midwives (also called CNMs) and certified midwives (CMs). The American College of Nurse-Midwives offers information on different kinds of midwives and can help you find one in your area.
  • A family nurse practitioner (also called FNP) is a nurse with special education and training to take care of every member of your family. An FNP can take care of you during pregnancy and can deliver your baby. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners can help you find an NP in your area. 
  • A women’s health nurse practitioner is a nurse with special education and training to take care of women of all ages, including pregnant women. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners can help you find a women’s health nurse practitioner in your area. 
  • A maternal-fetal medicine specialist is an OB with special education and training to take care of women who have high-risk pregnancies. If you have health conditions that may cause problems during pregnancy, your prenatal care provider may want you to see a maternal-fetal medicine specialist. The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine can help you find a specialist in your area.

What should you look for in a prenatal care provider?

Choose a health care provider who makes you feel comfortable and who listens to you. Make sure his office and the hospital or birthing center where he delivers babies is close to where you live. Talk to friends and family to find out who their prenatal care provider is.

Think about these things when you’re choosing your provider: 

  • Is the provider covered by your health insurance
  • Have you heard good things about the provider? Is she recommended by your friends or family? How does your partner feel about her as your prenatal care provider?  
  • Do you prefer to see a man or a woman provider? How old to you want the provider to be? Does he explain things clearly? 
  • Is the office easy to get to? Do the office hours fit into your schedule? Is the office staff friendly and helpful? 
  • Who takes care of phone calls during office hours? Who handles them after hours or in an emergency? Do you have to pay if your provider spends time with you on the phone? 
  • Is the provider in group practice? If yes, will you always see your provider at prenatal care appointments? Or will you see other providers in the practice? Who will deliver your baby if your provider’s not available when you go into labor? 
  • What hospital or birthing center does the provider use? What do you know about it? Is it easy for you to get to?  

Last reviewed December 2014

Have questions?

Frequently Asked Questions

How is blood pressure measured?

Blood pressure is the force of blood that pushes against the walls of your arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart to other parts of the body. If the pressure in your arteries becomes too high, you have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is also called hypertension.

At each prenantal care visit, your health care provider checks your blood pressure. To do this, she wraps an inflatable cuff around your upper arm. She pumps air into the cuff to measure the pressure in your arteries when the heart contracts (gets tight) and then relaxes.

Your blood pressure reading is given as two numbers: the top (first) number is the pressure when your heart contracts and the bottom (second) number is the pressure when your heart relaxes. A healthy blood pressure is 110/80. High blood pressure happens when the top number is 140 or greater, or when the bottom number is 90 or greater

Your blood pressure can go up or down during the day. Your provider can re-check a high reading to find out if you have high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Last reviewed March 2012

See also: High blood pressure during pregnancy, Preeclampsia, HELLP syndrome

Can a rubella shot hurt my baby during pregnancy?

If you got your rubella shot around the time you got pregnant, it's unlikely that your baby will be harmed by the vaccine. However, it's best to wait to get pregnant for 28 days after vaccination because there is a very small risk of potentially hurting the baby. To date, there hasn't been any birth defects reported that are attributed to the rubella vaccine. In any case, the risk of harming your baby by getting the vaccine at the time you got pregnant is much lower than the risk of harming your baby if you caught rubella during pregnancy.

I couldn't see my baby at my 7 week ultrasound. Why?

At the 7th week of pregnancy, your baby is about ½ an inch long or the size of a blueberry. He's very small. When a transabdominal ultrasound (done on your belly) is done at such an early stage, it's possible that the baby can't be seen. It could be because it's too early in the pregnancy or because you conceived a little later than what you thought. Your health care provider might recommend a transvaginal ultrasound (done inside the vagina) to help see the baby more clearly.

What are choroid plexus cysts?

The choroid plexus is the area of the brain that produces the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. This is not an area of the brain that involves learning or thinking. Occasionally, one or more cysts can form in the choroid plexus. These cysts are made of blood vessels and tissue. They do not cause intellectual disabilities or learning problems. Using ultrasound, a health care provider can see these cysts in about 1 in 120 pregnancies at 15 to 20 weeks gestation. Most disappear during pregnancy or within several months after birth and are no risk to the baby. They aren't a problem by themselves. But if screening tests show other signs of risk, they may indicate a possible genetic defect. In this case, testing with higher-level ultrasound and/or amniocentesis may be recommended to confirm or rule out serious problems.

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