The importance of prenatal care

Supporting a healthy pregnancy

If you just took a pregnancy test and got a positive result, there may be a lot going through your mind. After you process the fact that you might be pregnant, the next step for many expecting moms is to schedule a doctor’s appointment. The earlier you start your prenatal care — also known as care you receive while pregnant — the better. Prenatal care is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of complications for both you and your little one, helping to reduce low birthweight1 and iron-deficiency anemia, which can lead to premature birth.2

What happens during a prenatal care visit?

Depending on where you are in your pregnancy, prenatal appointments may include:

An estimated due date

  • A review of your medical history
  • A physical exam
  • Blood tests
  • Measuring your baby’s growth
  • Checking your baby’s heartbeat
  • Checking your blood pressure
  • Recording your weight
  • A urine sample, or urinalysis, to look for glucose (or sugar) which can indicate pre-existing type 2 diabetes, protein, which can be a sign of preeclampsia (pregnancy induced high blood pressure) and the presence of bacteria, which can indicate a urinary tract infection
  • At least one ultrasound, possibly more

Additional tests may be required, depending on your needs. Your provider will decide how often they want to see you throughout your pregnancy.

How often do I need prenatal visits?

If you’re over 35 or have a pre-existing health condition, your doctor may want to see you more frequently. Otherwise, prenatal appointments will likely be scheduled:

  • Once a month from weeks 4 to 28
  • Every two weeks from weeks 28 to 36
  • Every week from weeks 36 to 40

When should I be worried?

Pregnancy can include a range of emotions, from excitement to anxiety. When your body is changing in different ways, it may be hard to know which symptoms are part of the pregnancy process, and which ones could be worrisome. While relatively rare, there are times you shouldn’t wait for your next appointment to address concerns.

Situations that may warrant immediate medical care might include:

  • Your baby moving less than usual

  • Vaginal bleeding3

  • Strong cramps, a lasting backache or bellyache

  • A sudden onset of pain or abdominal pain

  • Blinding headache or blurred vision

  • Extreme vomiting that may lead to dehydration

  • Severe headaches that may signal preeclampsia

  • Contractions that continue for 30 minutes after exercising

  • Dizziness or chest pain following exercise

  • Severe itching

  • A gush of fluids before 37 weeks

When in doubt, get checked out. If you have questions or concerns about your pregnancy do not hesitate to contact your doctor or to seek medical attention.

Other than doctor’s appointments, what does prenatal care include?

Going to the doctor is a great first step in getting the prenatal care you need. Other important aspects of prenatal care include:

  • Following a healthy diet.
  • Taking your prenatal vitamins every day. Folic acid, a B vitamin, can help prevent major birth defects and help nourish your developing baby.4
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Talk to your doctor about how much weight you should gain during your pregnancy.
  • Not drinking alcohol, using street drugs or smoking. Even small amounts of nicotine during pregnancy can increase the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.5 Drinking alcohol increases the risk of having a baby with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
  • Staying out of hot tubs and saunas, where the heat can raise your body temperature.
  • Asking your doctor before stopping any medications or starting any new ones. Some medicines, including over-the-counter and herbal remedies, aren’t safe during pregnancy.
  • Exercising during pregnancy to lower stress, strengthen muscles and reduce fatigue.
  • Staying hydrated. Try to drink at least 8-12 glasses of water a day.6
  • Getting plenty of rest. If you feel tired, take a break. Don't push yourself. to maintain your usual pace. Try to get 7-9 hours of sleep at night.

Footnotes

  1. Pregnancy diet: Focus on these essential nutrients | mayoclinic.org
  2. Iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy: Prevention tips | mayoclinic.org
  3. Is implantation bleeding normal in early pregnancy? | mayoclinic.org
  4. Planning for Pregnancy | cdc.gov
  5. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) | nichd.nih.gov
  6. Dehydration During Pregnancy | americanpregnancy.org

Disclaimers

The information provided is for general informational and illustrative purposes only and is not intended to be nor should be construed as medical advice or a substitute for your doctor’s care. You should consult with your doctor or an appropriate health care professional to determine whether making a lifestyle change or decision based on this information is appropriate for you. In an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.