When it comes to prenatal care, the resounding motto is, “A healthy mother encourages a healthy pregnancy.” Prenatal care is designed to give mothers peace of mind and encourage them to care for their bodies during pregnancy. It can help prevent complications with your pregnancy and help keep your baby healthy throughout the length of your pregnancy.
It All Starts with Preconception Health
Many women don’t realize that preconception health is just as important as prenatal care. The truth is, your body will be much better equipped to handle a pregnancy if you are taking care of it before pregnancy. This includes an understanding of how your body is currently functioning, what medications you are taking and how they could impact a pregnancy (an important thing to talk to your doctor about), your lifestyle and how it may need to change, and more.
The Office of Women’s Health has recommended that women prepare at least three months in advance for pregnancy if they know they want to get pregnant. To prepare, there are five critical things you’ll want to prioritize to prepare for pregnancy:
- Start taking 400-800 micrograms of folic acid every day. This helps reduce the risk of birth defects in the baby’s brain and spine during pregnancy. The best way to ensure you get the correct amount of folic acid is to take a supplement.
- Stop smoking and drinking alcohol. Both of these can have wide ranging effects on your pregnancy, so cessation is recommended. If you need help with this, talk with your doctor to see what options there are. For most patients, nicotine replacement therapies are safe during pregnancy and encouraged over tobacco use.
- Work to optimize any medical conditions that you may currently have, such as thyroid disease, asthma, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
- Talk to your doctor about your current medication and supplement regimen to see if it should be altered in preparation for pregnancy.
- Avoid contact with any toxic substances or materials, including chemicals and cat feces.
If you’re wanting to conceive soon, we suggest booking an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible to start discussing what that will look like for you.
What’s Included in Prenatal Care and When to Start
Your prenatal care should begin when a doctor confirms your pregnancy and you’ve scheduled regular appointments with your obstetrician (OB). At each appointment, they will check your blood pressure, weight, and urine protein in addition to checking on your baby to ensure that your body is handling your pregnancy normally and that there isn’t cause for concern.
Your OB will typically ask about the following relating to your medical history:
- Blood pressure
- Height and weight
- Any active or past medical problems
- Surgical history
- Any psychosocial issues
- Obstetric and gynecologic history, including: last breast and pelvic exam, date of your last menstrual period, any birth control methods you have used, any history of abortions or miscarriages
- Any hospitalizations
- Any medications you are taking
- Any allergies you may have to medications
- Your family medical history
You can expect to have a physical exam, where the OB may do a pap smear, cervical cultures, or any other indicated tests.
They will typically also listen to your baby’s heartbeat using a doppler device, and may do ultrasounds, depending on the point in your pregnancy.
Common Times for Ultrasounds
In low-risk pregnancies, one or two ultrasounds are typically standard. If you are in a higher risk category, then your OB may recommend them more often. Here are typical ultrasounds you can expect at your appointments:
- First Trimester Ultrasounds: These confirm your baby’s heartbeat, determine their gestational age, and genetically screen for nuchal translucency.
- Second Trimester Ultrasounds: These will document your baby’s anatomy and measure your baby’s growth.
- Third Trimester Ultrasounds: These identify the baby’s position in your womb and measure your baby’s growth
Common Blood Tests During Pregnancy
There are quite a few blood tests that will be done throughout your pregnancy to ensure your health and the health of your baby, including:
- Rh Factor and blood type
- Rubella and Varicella immunity (or your history of chickenpox)
- Hepatitis B surface antigen
- Hemoglobin and hematocrit levels
- Cystic Fibrosis screening
- HIV testing and screening for other sexually transmitted infections
- And more depending on your medical history
Common Discussions During Your First Few Prenatal Visits
It’s not uncommon for an OB to discuss the following with you during your first few prenatal visits:
- Any medications issues
- Travel limitations
- Prenatal vitamins and supplements
- Recommendations concerning cats, fish, raw meat, gardening, and dental care
- Environmental hazards
- Miscarriage precautions
- Diet, exercise, and nutrition
- Physician and midwife rotations in the office
There are also some questions we recommend asking your OB if you think they apply to you, including:
- If I have questions, is there a nurse line I can call?
- Do you have any recommendations about sex during pregnancy?
- If I experience any bleeding or abnormal cramping, who should I call?
- Do you foresee any abnormal labor and delivery issues with my pregnancy that I should be aware of?
- What are your thoughts on natural childbirth?
- How long past my due date should I go before an intervention?
- What is your policy on labor induction?
Benefits of Receiving Prenatal Care
Prenatal care is essential for the health of your baby and yourself. Here are some benefits you’ll discover from receiving prenatal care.
- Your health and the health of your baby depends on it. A humbling stat that backs this up is that babies whose mother didn’t follow a prenatal care routine are three times more likely to have low birth weight, and five times more likely to not survive than the mothers who did follow a prenatal care routine. While most pregnancies can be perfectly normal, prenatal visits can help detect any potential problems or potential health concerns ahead of time, meaning that your doctor can make educated plans to improve your pregnancy and protect you and your baby.
- You’ll get personalized nutrition information. Your diet is very likely going to change during pregnancy, and you’ll need to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients to support yourself and your baby. Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t “eat for two.” Your doctor can provide you with the do’s and don’ts of what you should be eating during this time.
- You can keep track of your baby’s development. Downloading an app that gives you an estimated weight and size of your baby is vastly different than knowing their actual weight and size and being able to hear their heartbeat! Your doctor can track your baby’s growth and do ultrasounds that will verify your baby’s development and gender.
- You can schedule tests to ensure the full health of your baby. Limit the number of surprises you experience through proper prenatal care. The negative effects of many conditions can be minimized through proper intervention with your physician – but first you have to identify if there is a problem. It’s vastly empowering to know about an issue beforehand and to address it rather than finding out when you get to the delivery room and the baby is born.
- You’ll be prepared for labor and delivery. You and your partner will create your own labor and delivery plan, but how well that plan is laid out will depend on how educated you are on labor and delivery procedures. At your prenatal visits, your OB will discuss all of this with you, including procedures, questions and concerns, as well as potential scenarios. This also includes discussion on the risks and benefits of every treatment or intervention option that’s available to you, so you can make educated decisions.
You deserve the best care for before, during, and after pregnancy. We’d be honored to be able to care for you and be part of this alongside you! Schedule an appointment with us to get started on your prenatal health journey, and learn more about pregnancy health.