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What is prenatal care? — Prenatal care describes the medical care that a person gets during their pregnancy. As part of your prenatal care, the doctor or midwife will:
●Figure out when your baby is due
●Talk to you about nutrition, physical activity, work, and common pregnancy complaints, such as morning sickness, heartburn, and backache
●Talk to you about things to avoid, such as alcohol, smoking, and some drugs and chemicals
●Monitor your health to watch for problems
●Monitor your baby's health to check that they are growing well
●Talk with you about pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and make a plan for your labor and delivery
●Talk with you about taking care of yourself and your baby after the birth
●Do tests to check you and your baby for different health conditions
What happens at my first prenatal visit? — Your doctor or midwife will ask about your health and medical history, and figure out when your baby is due.
They will also do an exam, including a speculum exam. For this, the doctor or midwife will place a metal or plastic device (called a speculum) in your vagina (figure 1). The speculum holds the walls of the vagina open. That way, the doctor or midwife can see your cervix. They will also put 1 hand on your belly and insert 1 or 2 gloved fingers of the other hand into the vagina. This is so your doctor or midwife can check your ovaries and the size of your uterus.
They will also do tests that can include:
●Blood tests – Some blood tests check your general health. Other blood tests check for specific conditions that could cause problems for you or your baby.
●Lab tests on a sample of cells from the cervix – The doctor will use a swab to take some cells from your cervix. These cells can be tested for infections or cancer of the cervix.
●Ultrasound – An ultrasound uses sound waves to create pictures of the inside of your body and of your baby. This test is done to check your due date and see if you are pregnant with more than 1 baby.
What happens at each prenatal visit? — In the US, at all prenatal visits (including the first visit), the doctor or midwife will:
●Ask about your symptoms and answer any questions you have
●Check your blood pressure – Having high blood pressure can lead to problems, including a serious condition called "preeclampsia."
●Check your weight – The amount of weight that you should gain during pregnancy depends partly on what your weight was before you got pregnant.
●Measure the size of your uterus – Your uterus will get bigger as your pregnancy progresses.
●Listen for your baby's heartbeat – The doctor or midwife will be able to hear your baby's heartbeat starting at about 12 weeks of pregnancy.
●Test your urine to check for sugar or protein – Having sugar or protein in your urine might be a sign of a more serious problem.
As you get further along in your pregnancy, the doctor or midwife will:
●Ask about your baby's movements – People start feeling their baby move at different times. Most people feel their baby move by 20 to 25 weeks of pregnancy.
●Check your baby's position in your uterus – In the last 2 or 3 months of pregnancy, the doctor or midwife will check your baby's position at each visit. They will check whether your baby's head or buttocks are down and closest to your vagina (figure 2).
●Ask you about symptoms of premature labor – In the last 2 or 3 months of pregnancy, the doctor or midwife will ask you if you are feeling any contractions or leaking fluid from your vagina. These symptoms can be signs of labor or your "water breaking."
What other tests are part of prenatal care? — Your doctor or midwife will order other tests during your pregnancy. These include routine tests that everyone gets during pregnancy. They also include tests that some people choose to have.
Tests done during pregnancy can include:
●Test to check for diabetes (high blood sugar) – This involves drinking a sugar drink and then having your blood drawn.
●Blood tests to check for certain conditions or infections – These include tests to check your blood type and see if you have a condition called anemia. They also include tests to check for infections that you could pass to your baby or that could harm your baby. Some of these infections are rubella, hepatitis B, and syphilis.
●Ultrasound – This test checks your placenta, the fluid around your baby, how your baby is growing, and how your baby's organs are developing.
●Tests to check for certain problems that babies can be born with – For example, you might choose to test your baby for Down syndrome. Down syndrome is a lifelong condition that causes medical and learning problems. Another common test is to check for spina bifida, a problem that involves the spine (backbone). If a disease runs in your family, your doctor or midwife can tell you whether your baby might be at risk.
●Tests on your vaginal or cervical discharge (the fluid that leaks from your vagina or cervix) to check for an infection
How often will I see my doctor or midwife during pregnancy? — Your visits to your doctor or midwife will get more frequent as your pregnancy progresses. Here is a common schedule of visits:
●Every 4 weeks until you are about 28 weeks pregnant
●Then, every 2 to 3 weeks until you are about 36 weeks pregnant
●Then, every week until delivery
People with certain medical conditions (including conditions that they had before they got pregnant) might need to see their doctor or midwife more often. They might also need other tests to follow their medical condition during pregnancy.
Patient education: Preeclampsia (The Basics)
Patient education: Taking medicines during pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: Gestational diabetes (The Basics)
Patient education: Nutrition before and during pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: How to plan and prepare for a healthy pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: How to tell when labor starts (The Basics)
Patient education: Testing for Down syndrome during pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: Chorionic villus sampling (The Basics)
Patient education: Amniocentesis (The Basics)
Patient education: Labor and childbirth (The Basics)
Patient education: Breech pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: Pregnancy in Rh-negative people (The Basics)
Patient education: Your baby's movement before birth (The Basics)
Patient education: Pelvic ultrasound (The Basics)
Patient education: When your baby is measuring large during pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: When your baby is measuring small during pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: Preeclampsia (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Chorionic villus sampling (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Should I have a screening test for Down syndrome during pregnancy? (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Amniocentesis (Beyond the Basics)
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