Experiencing a healthy pregnancy is one of the best ways to promote the healthy birth of a child. Receiving early and regular prenatal care improves the chances of a healthy pregnancy. Prenatal care may start even prior to pregnancy with a preconception care visit to a health care provider.
Preconception health and health care - Focuses on taking steps now to protect the health of a baby in the future. Preconception care is care you receive before you get pregnant. It involves finding and taking care of any problems that might affect you and your baby later, like diabetes or high blood pressure. It also involves steps you can take to reduce the risk of birth defects and other problems. Pre-conception counseling (also called pre-conceptual counseling) is a meeting with a health-care professional (generally a physician) by a woman before attempting to become pregnant.
Prenatal care - A type of preventive healthcare with the goal of providing regular check-ups that allow doctors or midwives to treat and prevent potential health problems throughout the course of the pregnancy while promoting healthy lifestyles that benefit both mother and child.
A preconception care visit may help women take steps for a safe and healthy pregnancy before they even get pregnant. Women can help to promote a healthy pregnancy and the birth of a healthy infant if they pursue some different things before they become pregnant. These steps can include the following:
Prenatal Care Information and Facts
Women who think they might be pregnant should schedule a visit with their health care provider to start prenatal care. Prenatal visits to a health care provider include weight checks, a physical examination, as well as providing a urine sample. Depending upon the stage of a woman's pregnancy, a health care provider might also order imaging and blood tests. The visits also include discussions concerning the mother's health, the infant's health, and any questions about the pregnancy.
Preconception and prenatal care may help to prevent complications and inform women about steps they can take to protect their infant while ensuring a healthy pregnancy. Through regular prenatal care women can:
Help to Ensure the Medications Women Take Are Safe: Some medications, to include dietary and herbal supplements and some acne treatments, are not safe to take while pregnant.
Reduce the Risk of Pregnancy Complications: Following a healthy and safe diet, getting regular exercise as advised by a health care provider, as well as avoiding exposure to potentially harmful substances such as radiation and lead may help to reduce the risk for issues during pregnancy and ensure the infant's health and development. Controlling existing conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure is important to avoid serious complications in pregnancy such as preeclampsia.
Taking 400+ Micrograms of Folic Acid Daily: Taking folic acid reduces the risk for neural tube defects by 70%. The majority of prenatal vitamins contain the recommended 400 micrograms of folic acid, along with other vitamins that women who are pregnant and their developing fetus require. Folic acid has been added to foods such as:
While a related form called, 'folate,' is present in leafy green vegetables and orange juice, folate is not absorbed by the mother's body as well as folic acid.
Reduce the Infant's Risk for Complications: Alcohol and tobacco consumption during pregnancy has been shown to increase the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Alcohol use also increases the risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which may cause a number of issues such as:
One recent study states these and additional long-term issues may happen even with low levels of prenatal alcohol exposure.
Prenatal Physical Examination
A health care provider will check the mother's height, weight and blood pressure. The health care provider will listen to the mother's heart and assess their overall health status. The provider may examine the mother's vagina and the opening to their uterus for any signs of infections or abnormalities. Changes in the mother's uterus and the size of her uterus can help to confirm her stage of pregnancy. The mother's health care provider may order a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer too, depending upon how long it has been since her last screening.
At a mother's first prenatal visit, blood tests may be done. One of these tests is to check the mother's blood type, to include her Rh status. 'Rhesus (Rh),' factor is an inherited trait that refers to a specific protein found on the surface of red blood cells. A woman's pregnancy needs care if they are Rh negative and their baby's father is Rh positive. Additional tests include the following:
Measurement of Hemoglobin: Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein found in red blood cells that permits the cells to carry oxygen from the mother's lungs to other parts of her body and to carry carbon dioxide from other parts of her body to her lungs so it may be exhaled. Low hemoglobin is a sign of anemia, which is a lack of healthy red blood cells.
Check Immunity to Certain Infections: Things checked for usually include chickenpox and rubella, unless proof of vaccination or natural immunity is documented in the mother's history.
Detect Exposure to Other Infections: A health care provider may suggest blood tests to detect a number of other infections such as:
A mother-to-be may also be offered a test to check for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. A urine sample might be tested for signs of bladder, kidney, or urinary tract infection.
Prenatal Care and Lifestyle Issues
A mother-to-be and her health care provider will discuss the importance of appropriate nutrition and prenatal vitamins. The mother's first prenatal visit is a great time to discuss exercise, sex during pregnancy, as well as other lifestyle issues. The mother-to-be may also discuss her working environment and the use of medications while pregnant. If the mother smokes tobacco, a health care provider can provide suggestions to help her quit smoking.
The mother-to-be's subsequent prenatal visits are often times scheduled every four weeks during her first trimester and will most likely be shorter than the first one. Her health care provider will check her weight and blood pressure and will discuss signs and symptoms. Near the end of the first trimester, around nine to twelve weeks of pregnancy, the mother-to-be may be able to hear her baby's heartbeat with a device that bounces sound waves off of her baby's heart. She most likely will not need another pelvic examination until later in her pregnancy.
Bear in mind that a woman's health care provider is there to support her throughout her pregnancy. Her prenatal appointments are an ideal time to discuss concerns or questions, to include things that might be embarrassing or uncomfortable. Also; the mother can find out how to contact her health care provider between appointments. Knowing help is available when she needs it can offer great peace of mind.
The Baby's Due Date
Few women actually give birth on their due dates, but establishing a mother-to-be's due date is important. An accurate due date permits her health care provider to monitor her baby's growth and the progress of her pregnancy, as well as to schedule tests and procedures at the most appropriate time. To estimate a mother-to-be's due date, a health care provider will most likely count ahead forty weeks from the start of her last period, or add seven days to the first day of her last period and then subtract three months. If there is any question about the mother-to-be's due date, a health care provider may recommend an early ultrasound to help confirm the date. You can also use our baby due date calculator.
Prenatal care fact sheet
Prenatal Care Information
Group Prenatal Care Option
Prenatal care generally consists of: