Prenatal care is the health care you get when you're pregnant. You can get prenatal care from a doctor, nurse practioner or nurse midwife. Another name for these people is "health care provider." Prenatal checkups should start as soon as you think you might be pregnant. In your first 6 months, you will usually get a checkup once a month. In months 7 and 8, you may go twice a month. In the last month, you may go every week.
Why Is It Important?
Prenatal care gives you the best chance of having a healthy baby. And it helps you stay healthy, too. There are many reasons to get prenatal care. Your health care provider can check your health. You can get any problems taken care of before they become serious. Your health care provider can check to make sure your unborn baby is growing well. Some important tests should be done while you are pregnant. These check your health and your baby’s health.
Where To Go?
If you don’t know where to go, you can call your local public health department for help. You can go to an obstetrician, a midwife, nurse practitioner, or a family physician who delivers babies.
What To Expect?
You will be asked questions about the following things: date of your last menstrual period; your health; your family’s health; other pregnancies you’ve had. You will be weighed every visit. Weight gain shows that you are eating well and that your baby is growing; every woman gains different amounts; it is important that you eat what your baby needs to grow throughout the entire pregnancy.
You will have a physical exam: Height, weight; blood pressure; heart, lungs, breasts and abdomen will be checked; the area around your vagina will be checked. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you take medicines, vitamins, herbs or non-prescription drugs. At every visit: you will be asked for a urine (pee) sample so your urine can be checked. Sometime in the third month your health care provider will be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat. And so will you! You will have a pelvic exam: your health care provider will check your cervix (the bottom part of your uterus (womb). Your blood pressure will be checked. If it gets too high, you may need to have other tests to find out what the problem is.
You will have several blood and lab tests done: your blood will be taken only once; you will have a urine test and a Pap test; maybe a TB skin test and a test for sexually transmitted infections. Your tummy will be measured: this is done to check the size of the uterus (womb). This shows how your baby is growing. This also helps determine how far along you are.
What are the Tests?
The following list does not include all tests that your health care provider may want you to have. These tests are some of the most common. Because each pregnancy is different, there may be other tests that your health care provider will recommend.
- Hematocrit or Hemoglobin test: This checks how many red blood cells you have. These cells carry oxygen to your baby. Your red blood cells are usually checked at your first visit and again in the seventh month.
- Urine Test: you will be asked to urinate in a cup at every visit. Sugar, protein, bacteria or blood in your urine can be a sign of problems.
- Blood Type: This test shows what your blood type is and whether your blood is Rh positive or negative. This test is done at your first visit and again later if you are Rh negative. Gonorrhea and Chlamydia culture: during your pelvic exam, some cells will be taken from your cervix and tested. Gonorrhea and Chlamydia can cause problems for you and your baby.
- Rubella Titer: done at your first visit. It checks to see if you have had rubella (German Measles), Rubella during pregnancy can cause problems for your baby.
- Pap test: The Pap test checks for cancer of the cervix. During your pelvic exam, some cells will be taken from your cervix and checked to make sure they are normal.
- Syphilis Test: done at your first visit to see if you have syphilis. Syphilis can cause problems for your baby.
- Ultrasound: This test uses sound waves to show a picture of the baby. It is not done for every pregnancy. It may be done if the baby seems too small or too large, or if you have bleeding or other problems.
- Hepatitis Test: done at your first visit to see if you have hepatitis. Hepatitis can cause liver problems in your baby.
- Fasting Blood Sugar: this is done to make sure the level of sugar in your blood is within normal limits. If the results are abnormal, further testing will be done.
- Alpha Fetal Protein testing: done between weeks 15 and 18. It checks for problems with your baby’s brain, spinal column and stomach. Results are usually available within one week.
- HIV Test: done to see if you are HIV positive. HIV can cause life threatening problems for you and your baby. If you are HIV positive, it is important to get treatment as soon as possible.
During your prenatal care visits, you will be asked about any concerns you have. Tell your health care provider any changes or anything you are worried about. Do not be afraid to ask questions. You may want to write them down before you visit. Each prenatal visit is important.
Just because you are doing well at the last visit does not mean you do not need to stop your prenatal care visits. You and your baby are changing all along as your pregnancy continues. Different problems may not appear, except at different stages of the pregnancy as your baby grows inside.