All pregnant women require regular prenatal care and definitely benefit from this care. It has been shown that women who receive regular prenatal care tend to have healthier pregnancies as well as healthier babies. However, it is important to decide at the beginning of your pregnancy if you would like to have your pregnancy followed by an obstetrician or a midwife. Both types of health care providers are fully qualified to look after you during your pregnancy. Regardless of whether you are going to an obstetrician or midwife, your first visit with them will be similar in design.
What to Expect
Your initial visit with your health care provider will most likely be the longest one during your pregnancy. This check-up will be very thorough as your health care provider needs to become familiar with your past family and medical history and will also perform a series of tests to ensure that everything is progressing properly in your pregnancy.
Your Health and Family History
One of the first things your health care provider will ask you about is the current state of your and your partner’s health. Do either of you have any chronic illnesses? Have you had any major illnesses or surgery? Are you currently on any medication or supplements? You should also let your health care provider know if either of you smoke, drink or take recreational drugs.
Your health care provider will also want to know about both your and your partner’s family history. Again, is there a history of any chronic illnesses? Depression? Diabetes? Also, be sure to mention any genetic diseases that have shown up in your family history, like cystic fibrosis. If there is a history of genetic disease in your or your partner’s family, or if you are over 35-years-old, your health care provider will probably recommend referring you for genetic testing. This is done in order to properly assess your baby’s risk for any genetic defects.
Your health care provider will also ask you when your last menstrual period was. If you have precise information on this date, you will be given a more accurate due date as well as estimated date of conception. But don’t forget, the vast majority of babies are born within two weeks before or after a given due date.
You may also have some questions you would like to ask your health care provider at the appointment. You might want to make a list beforehand so that you don’t forget to ask any of them.
The Blood Test
First off, your health care provider will confirm your pregnancy by ordering a blood test. In addition to this, the blood test will determine your blood type, Rh status, and check your antibody levels and immunity level to certain infections like rubella. You will also be offered an HIV test. All pregnant women are now given the opportunity to be tested in order to make sure women who are unaware that they are infected with HIV don’t pass on the virus to their baby.
The Urinalysis Screen
Your health care provider will also want a urine sample. The urinalysis screens for glucose and protein levels in your urine. You will continue to have this monitored throughout your pregnancy to make sure you don’t develop gestational diabetes.
The Physical Exam
You will also have a full physical exam to assess your current state of health. This will include checking your blood pressure, height and weight, and checking your limbs for varicose veins or swelling. Additionally, an internal pelvic exam will be performed and a pap smear will be done to test for any infections and cervical cancer.
Future check-ups with your health care provider will consist of routinely checking your weight, blood pressure, and urine plus your limbs for swelling or varicose veins. She or he will also order any tests that need to be done as well as address any questions you might have.
After the 12th week of pregnancy, your health care provider will also start listening for a fetal heartbeat. Beginning at about the halfway point, your health care provider will also start measuring your stomach to estimate how much your baby has grown. Towards the end of the pregnancy, your health care provider will begin to feel your abdomen in order to determine the baby’s position.
The frequency of your visits will change throughout your pregnancy. Up until the 28th week, you will only need to see your health care provider once a month. After that, it will increase to two visits every month until the 36th week. From the 36th week until the birth, you will have an appointment every week.
If you have a chronic medical condition or have been determined a “high-risk” pregnancy, you may have to see your health care provider more often. Even if you’re feeling fine, it is important to go to all of your prenatal check-ups to ensure that you and your baby receive the best possible care.
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD