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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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Your first prenatal care checkup

Congratulations on your pregnancy! Now that you know you’re expecting, it’s important to take very good care of yourself and your baby. The first thing you can do is make an appointment with your health care provider for your first prenatal care checkup.

Your first prenatal checkup is usually the longest because your provider asks you lots of questions and does several tests.

How do you get ready for your first prenatal checkup?

You might not be sure about what to expect at your first prenatal care checkup. It helps to plan ahead. 

At your first prenatal checkup, your provider talks to you about your health. She may have you answer questions, like about your health history, using a paper form or computer while you’re in the waiting room. This helps your provider plan the best care for you and your baby.

Be prepared to tell your provider about:

Also, keep learning about your family health history. If you learn something new, or have a question for your health provider, write it down. You can talk to your health provider at your next visit. These steps will help you to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

What else happens at the first prenatal care checkup?

At your first prenatal care checkup, your provider does some tests to check your health and your baby’s health. Your health care provider:

  • Checks your weight
  • Takes your blood pressure
  • Does a physical exam and a pelvic (internal) exam
  • Checks your urine sample for infection
  • Does some blood tests to check for anemia and to see if you have certain infections. You get a blood test for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, unless you say no.
  • Does a Pap smear to check for cervical cancer and other tests for vaginal infections.
  • Gives you a prenatal vitamin with 600 micrograms of folic acid

Go to all your prenatal checkups, even if you’re feeling fine!

Who else knows about your health information?

It can be hard sharing such personal information, like if you had a sexually transmitted infection or if you use drugs. Know that the answers you give help your provider give you and your baby the best care.

All of the health information you share is private and safe. It doesn’t matter if the information comes from your prenatal tests, is written down in a paper form, gets added into a computer or is shared during a talk you have with your provider. Only your health care team knows your health information.

So, don’t be afraid to give honest answers or share your concerns with your provider. She can’t tell anyone else what you say without your permission.

Last reviewed May 2011

This web article is supported by grant U33MC12786 from the Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Genetic Services Branch, as part of the Family Health History for Prenatal Providers project. Partners in the Family Health History for Prenatal Providers project include HRSA, March of Dimes Foundation, National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics, Genetic Alliance and Harvard Partners.

See also: Later prenatal care checkups, Routine prenatal tests, Family health history

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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