Prenatal Care
Prenatal care

Prenatal Care

Regular prenatal care is one of the most valuable things you can do help ensure you have a healthy baby. Younger or older, first baby or fifth, all women need prenatal care. Here's what you can expect when you visit the doctor's office.
All women need prenatal care. Women who see a health care provider regularly during pregnancy have healthier babies, are less likely to deliver prematurely, and are less likely to have other serious problems related to pregnancy.

A typical prenatal care schedule for a low-risk woman with a normally progressing pregnancy is:
  • Weeks 4 to 28: 1 visit per month (every 4 weeks)
  • Weeks 28 to 36: 2 visits per month (every 2 to 3 weeks)
  • Weeks 36 to birth: 1 visit per week

A woman with a chronic medical condition or a “high-risk” pregnancy may have to see her health care provider more often. Make sure you go to all your prenatal care appointments, even if you're feeling fine.

What Happens at a Prenatal Care Visit?
During your first prenatal care visit, your provider will ask you a lot of questions and do some tests. Most of your other visits will be much shorter.

At the first visit your health care provider will:

  • Ask you about your health, your partner's health and the health of your close family members. Don't worry if you don't know all the answers.
  • Identify medical problems.
  • Discuss with you any medications you are taking.
  • Do a physical exam and a pelvic (internal) exam.
  • Weigh you.
  • Check your blood pressure.
  • Check a urine sample for infection.
  • Do some blood tests to check for anemia and see if you have had certain infections. You will be asked if you want a test for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
  • Do a Pap smear to check for cervical cancer and other tests for vaginal infections.
  • Figure out your due date: an estimate of the day your baby will be born. Most babies are born within two weeks (before or after) their due date.
  • Make sure you're taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid (600 micrograms per day).

During later prenatal visits your provider will:

  • Weigh you.
  • Check your blood pressure.
  • Measure your belly to see how the baby is growing (middle and late pregnancy).
  • Check your hands, feet and face for swelling.
  • Listen for the baby's heartbeat (after the 12th week of pregnancy).
  • Feel your abdomen to assess the baby's position (later in pregnancy).
  • Do any tests that are needed, such as blood tests or ultrasound.
  • Ask you if you have any questions or concerns. It's a good idea to write down your questions and bring a list with you so you don't forget.

Remember, the things you tell your health care provider are confidential. That means that he or she can't tell anyone else what you say without your permission. So don't be afraid to talk about issues that might be uncomfortable or embarrassing. It's OK to tell your provider if you smoke, drink alcohol or take any drugs, or if your partner hurts or scares you. Your provider needs to know all about you and your lifestyle so that he or she can give you and your baby the best care.

Free or Low-Cost Prenatal Care
If you don't have insurance or can't afford prenatal care, find out about free or low-cost services care in your area:

  • Call (800) 311-BABY (800-311-2229) This toll-free telephone number will connect you to your local health department.
  • For information in Spanish, call 800-504-7081.
  • Call or visit your local health department.

No one knows exactly why women who get early and regular prenatal care have healthier pregnancies and healthier babies. But we do know it works. So go. Do it for yourself and your baby.

Remember: In addition to prenatal care, be sure to have a dental checkup early in pregnancy to help your mouth remain healthy. You may even want to see your dentist more often than usual.

January 2010, May 2010

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