"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 Ultrasonography Ultrasonography is a safe imaging test that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the insides of your body. Ultrasonography doesn't use radiation (x-rays). Ultrasonography is also called... read more 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
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 Genetic Screening Genetic screening is used to determine whether a couple is at increased risk of having a baby with a hereditary genetic disorder. Hereditary genetic disorders are disorders of chromosomes or... read more . 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 Folate Deficiency Folate deficiency is common. Because the body stores only a small amount of folate, a diet lacking in folate leads to a deficiency within a few months. Not eating enough raw leafy vegetables... read more 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 Toxoplasmosis Toxoplasmosis is infection caused by the single-celled protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Infection occurs when people unknowingly ingest toxoplasma cysts from cat feces or eat contaminated... read more , that damages your baby
Avoid being around people who are sick, especially if they have certain infections such as rubella Rubella Rubella is a contagious viral infection that typically causes mild symptoms, such as joint pain and a rash, but can cause severe birth defects if the mother becomes infected with rubella during... read more , chickenpox Chickenpox Chickenpox is a viral infection that's more common in children than in adults. Chickenpox causes fever and an itchy rash of small, raised blisters or crusted spots Chickenpox spreads easily... read more , or shingles Shingles After you've had chickenpox, the virus that caused it stays in your body all your life. If the virus becomes active again, you get shingles. Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful... read more
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 Pregnancy Tests and Due Dates Pregnancy begins with fertilization (when a sperm enters an egg) and ends with delivery (when the baby is born). Pregnancy lasts about 9 months. You should suspect you’re pregnant if: Your period... read more (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:
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:
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 Diabetes During Pregnancy Diabetes is a disease in which your blood sugar (glucose) levels are too high. Blood sugar is your body’s main source of energy. Your body breaks down all types of foods, including bread, fruit... read more ).
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.