Every mother-to-be needs prenatal care. Prenatal care is the regular healthcare women receive during pregnancy from your doctor, midwife, or other healthcare professional.
Prenatal care should begin as early as possible ideally even before you become pregnant – this is sometimes called a preconception visit. During your first visit, your provider will answer questions you may have regarding your pregnancy, perform a physical examination, and a dating ultrasound. A dating ultrasound will assist your provider with estimating your due date.
The goal of prenatal care is to monitor the progress of your pregnancy and help ensure a healthy and happy pregnancy. Women who receive prenatal care have healthier babies and are prepared for labor and delivery.
Your First Pregnancy Visit
Schedule a prenatal visit with your OBGYN as soon as you learn that you are pregnant. The OBGYN provider may suggest seeing you around 6-8 weeks after your last menstrual period.
During your first visit, your provider will answer questions you may have regarding your pregnancy, perform a physical examination, and a dating ultrasound. A dating ultrasound will assist your provider with estimating your due date.
After your first prenatal visit, you will schedule a prenatal visit every 4 weeks until about 28 weeks into your pregnancy. During weeks 28-36, you will schedule visits about every 2 weeks. After week 36, you will begin seeing your provider weekly.
After week 12, your doctor will listen to your baby’s heartbeat.
At each prenatal visit, you should discuss any questions or concerns you have with your doctor.
Prenatal Diagnostic and Screening Tests
Below are the most common prenatal tests used to monitor your pregnancy to help you maintain a healthy pregnancy.
Blood type and antibody screen – Blood tests used to determine your blood type (A, B, AB, or O), and whether you are Rh positive (your blood has the Rh antigen) or Rh negative (your blood lacks the Rh antigen); if your blood type and Rh status are incompatible with your baby’s, you may need special care during pregnancy.
Hematocrit and hemoglobin – Blood tests that check for anemia.
Syphilis – A blood test that checks for the sexually transmitted disease (STD), syphilis, which can be treated so that it will not be transmitted to your baby.
Rubella – A blood test to see if you have had rubella (German measles) or a rubella vaccination; if you have not, you will be advised to avoid being exposed to the disease while pregnant.
Hepatitis B virus – A blood test to determine if you have hepatitis B, a viral disease that infects the liver; it can be treated with medications, which must also be given to your baby, along with a vaccine, after birth.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) – A blood test to determine if you have been infected with the HIV virus, which causes AIDS; if you have, you will be given medications during pregnancy to reduce the risk that you will pass the infection on to your baby. This test is valuable because of the power of medications to protect the baby.
Varicella zoster virus – Chickenpox (also called varicella) is an infection that can be harmful to your unborn baby or newborn. Your healthcare provider can test for this by taking a swab of a rash.
Gestational diabetes – A blood test to determine if you have gestational diabetes will be done in the second trimester.
Urine tests – A laboratory test to check the levels of sugar and protein in your urine, which can help identify gestational diabetes and preeclampsia; urine tests can also check for bladder and kidney infections.
Cervical tests – A Pap test to check for precancerous cells in your cervix, and swabs to test for the STDs gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Multiple marker screening – The multiple marker screening measures the levels of the hormones estriol, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), and alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), in your blood. Abnormal results can indicate an increased risk of some chromosomal abnormalities. A fourth test, PAPP-A (pregnancy-associated plasma protein-A), is sometimes added to multiple marker screening to improve the ability to detect abnormalities in the fetus (Quad Screen).
Ultrasound – An imaging test that uses sound waves to view your fetus; ultrasounds can help confirm pregnancy, determine the age and sex of the fetus, and possibly identify abnormalities.
Group B streptococcal disease – Group B streptococcal disease is a bacterial infection that can cause illness in newborn babies and pregnant women. This test is done with a cervical swab one month before the baby is due (at 35-37 weeks)
Other tests – Other tests that may be performed include testing the amniotic fluid, examining cells from the placenta, testing your fetus’ genetics, and testing for tuberculosis