The moment you find out you’re pregnant, a million questions start to go through your mind. Can I still go running? Are prenatal vitamins essential? How do I know my baby’s healthy? This is all a normal part of pregnancy, and it’s one of the reasons prenatal care has become so important. An obstetrician or midwife isn’t just present for the delivery; your provider is there to guide you through pregnancy with regular prenatal care visits. These checkups are a time to monitor the health of you and your baby, and they’re opportunities to ask questions and express any concerns you have. They also change over time. To help you know what to expect from prenatal care, we’ve outlined what’s common in these visits during each trimester of your pregnancy.
Your first prenatal care visit will probably be the longest, and it’s one of the most important. To learn if you are a candidate for a high risk pregnancy, your provider will ask you a wide array of questions about your family and medical history. Pregnancy can be both exciting and a little scary. Your partner may also want to come to this visit, which is a good opportunity to ask questions and provide support.
During the first visit your obstetrician or midwife will also establish your due date, perform a series of lab tests, and discuss your lifestyle with you. If you have any questions about what foods you should eat during pregnancy, your options for exercise, or how to manage stress levels, be sure to ask them. Your provider will also discuss prenatal genetic screening tests that can be performed during the pregnancy.
The rest of this visit will involve a routine physical exam: checking your weight, height, and blood pressure to assess your overall health. These will become standard for all subsequent prenatal care visits—which you’ll schedule every four to six weeks. Though many women traditionally meet with their physician or midwife one-on-one, group prenatal care has recently become a popular alternative. Whichever structure you choose, write down any questions that you’ve meant to ask your provider before you arrive. The visits may become routine, so it can be easy to forget something that’s been on your mind for weeks.
During this trimester you’ll begin to feel your baby kicking and moving. In addition to documenting your blood pressure and weight, your provider will begin tracking your baby’s growth and listening to its heartbeat. You will also undergo routine blood tests checking for gestational diabetes, which commonly develops in pregnant women.
Other tests may be used as genetic screening to determine if your baby is at risk for chromosomal disorders. Not every woman chooses the option of genetic screening, but these visits are a good time to discuss risks and complications with your physician. Around twenty weeks gestation, an ultrasound is usually performed to make sure the baby has normal anatomy. The rest of the time is devoted to asking more questions about healthy weight gain, intimacy with your partner, and anything else that arises during this time.
In the final trimester, you’ll meet with your physician or midwife more frequently—usually weekly in the final month. All routine tests of previous visits will continue, but you may be screened for group B streptococcus (GBS), a common and harmless bacterium for adults that can lead to illness in newborns. Your prenatal care may also begin to include regular pelvic exams so your physician can monitor the baby’s position and look for changes in your cervix. Cervical dilation can help determine when you’ll go into labor, but some women remain dilated for weeks before childbirth and others can enter labor without dilating at all.
Many women opt to take childbirth education classes with their partners to supplement their prenatal care. If you choose to use a birth plan, the third trimester is a good time to discuss yours with your provider. Remember to continue to ask questions, too. Prenatal care isn’t just about monitoring health; it’s to help you feel ready for the day you go into labor.
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Sources: Mayo Clinic