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Prenatal Care

(Medical Care During Pregnancy)

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Sep 2020| Content last modified Sep 2020
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NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version

"Pre" means before, and "natal" means birth. So prenatal care is medical care you get before you give birth. Prenatal care includes routine doctor visits and routine tests. The doctor checks your health and the health of your developing baby.

  • Routine visits and tests let your doctor find problems before they cause symptoms

  • Problems you had before, like high blood pressure or asthma, may need to be treated differently when you're pregnant

  • Your doctor will tell you how to take care of yourself, including your diet and what vitamins you need

  • You'll see your doctor once a month in the beginning of pregnancy and more often as you get closer to delivery

  • Doctors check your weight, your urine, and your blood pressure at each visit

  • Doctors usually do an ultrasound at least once during pregnancy—more often depending on your health history and symptoms

Should I see a doctor before I try to get pregnant?

It's a good idea to see a doctor before you get pregnant. The doctor can make sure your pregnancy will be as safe as possible and help you prepare to get pregnant. Your doctor will:

  • Talk to you about how pregnancy might affect any diseases you have

  • Give you any immunizations you need

  • Ask you about risk factors for diseases that could be passed to your baby (inherited)

If you have risk factors for inherited diseases, the doctor may recommend doing blood tests as part of genetic screening. The tests look to see if you or your partner carry genes for diseases you could pass on to your child. Some doctors do these tests on everyone because people don't always have risk factors.

If you decide to try to get pregnant, do the following to give your baby the best chance of being healthy:

  • Take a multivitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day (you can find the amount of folic acid on the label)

  • Don’t use tobacco or be around someone who is smoking

  • Don’t drink alcohol

  • Avoid scooping used kitty litter or touching cat poop—this can transmit a disease, toxoplasmosis, that damages your baby

  • Avoid being around people who are sick, especially if they have certain infections such as rubella, chickenpox, or shingles

What happens at my first doctor visit?

You’ll see your doctor once you're about 6 to 8 weeks pregnant. The weeks of pregnancy are counted from the first day of your last menstrual period.

At this visit, your doctor will:

  • Estimate your due date (the day your doctor expects your baby to be born, usually 40 weeks after the first day of your last period)

  • Measure your height, weight, and blood pressure

  • Ask about your health, your medicines, and details about any earlier pregnancies

  • Check your ankles for swelling

  • Do a pelvic (internal) exam to check for diseases or other problems

  • Do a Pap test (a test to check for cancer in your cervix), if you haven't had one in the recommended time period

  • Take samples of blood and urine for testing

What medical care will I need during my pregnancy?

You'll see the doctor more often as your pregnancy goes along. After the first visit, you’ll see your doctor:

  • Every 4 weeks until 28 weeks of pregnancy

  • Every 2 weeks until 36 weeks

  • Then once a week until delivery

At each visit, your doctor will:

  • Weigh you

  • Take your blood pressure

  • Look at your ankles for swelling

  • Measure your uterus

  • Check your baby’s heartbeat

  • Check a urine sample for sugar

At about 16 to 20 weeks, your doctor will do an ultrasound to check your fetus's:

  • Heartbeat

  • Sex

  • Size and growth

The ultrasound can also tell:

  • Whether you're pregnant with twins or multiples

  • Whether your fetus has any possible issues, including birth defects or problems with the placenta (the organ that feeds your fetus)

Depending on the ultrasound results, your doctor may do more ultrasounds later in your pregnancy.

At about 24 to 28 weeks, your doctor will do a blood test to check for high blood sugar (gestational diabetes).

X-rays aren't a regular part of pregnancy care. If you need an x-ray, you can get one safely by using a lead apron to shield your belly.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version

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