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Getting good prenatal care
Regular doctor's visits will help you and your baby stay healthy.
So you just found out you're pregnant. Congratulations! The next step? See your doctor first thing for prenatal care.
You'll want to start that care as early as possible. And stick with it throughout your pregnancy. That will help ensure a healthy pregnancy, a smooth delivery and a healthy baby.
Why get prenatal care?
According to the March of Dimes, women who get routine prenatal care have:
- Healthier babies.
- A lower risk of giving birth early.
- Fewer serious complications.
Every visit is a chance to get peace of mind about your health and your baby's health. It's also the best chance to find problems early, when they may be easier to treat.
These visits also give you the chance to:
- Ask questions.
- Learn about birth.
- Develop a relationship with your care provider.
- Find out about services, classes and other types of support.
If you're 35 or older, prenatal care is especially important. You have a higher risk of some problems during pregnancy. Prenatal care can help you prevent or manage them.
When you'll visit the doctor
Most healthy women who aren't at risk for complications will have prenatal visits about this often, says the Office on Women's Health:
- Every four weeks from week 4 to week 28 of pregnancy.
- Every two weeks from week 28 to week 36 of pregnancy.
- Every week from week 36 of pregnancy until the baby is born.
Your provider may want to see you more often if you had medical problems before pregnancy. You may also need more frequent visits if you have symptoms or test results that could be signs of a problem.
The first prenatal visit tends to be the longest. At this visit your healthcare provider may:
- Ask about your health history. This can include details such as medicines you take, allergies, vaccines you've had, and a history of diseases in childhood and adulthood.
- Measure your height, weight and blood pressure.
- Give you a physical and pelvic exam.
- Take samples of blood, urine, vaginal fluid and cervical cells. These will be checked for signs of disease or infection.
You'll also get your estimated due date. Most women will have their baby within two weeks of their due date. However, very few women have the baby on their exact due date. You can also get an idea of your due date here.
Your provider may also give you a prescription for prenatal vitamins. He or she will also share information about substances, activities and foods to avoid during pregnancy.
Your weight and blood pressure will be checked at every prenatal visit. The size of your uterus will also be checked.
After about 10 weeks, your baby's heartbeat can be heard at your prenatal care checkup, and it can be checked at each visit too.
You may also have an ultrasound exam. This creates a moving picture of the baby. The test can show:
- If you're carrying more than one baby.
- The baby's heartbeat.
- The baby's size and sex.
- Some types of birth defects.
Other tests may be needed if you have risk factors for complications during pregnancy. Remember to ask about the risks and benefits of any test before it's done.
Staying in touch
Every prenatal visit is a chance for you to ask about symptoms you have and discomfort you feel. Be sure to share your questions, concerns and hopes related to your pregnancy or childbirth. You might discuss, for example, your hopes for your childbirth and whom you'd like to have with you in the delivery room.
Your doctor can also answer questions about issues such as:
- Circumcision, if your baby is a boy.
- Recovering after childbirth.