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Supporting a Healthy Pregnancy with Prenatal Care

Supporting a Healthy Pregnancy with Prenatal Care



Prenatal care consists of the health care you receive while you are pregnant to keep you and your baby healthy throughout your pregnancy. At each appointment, your prenatal care provider will track the development of your baby, how you are feeling, and the way your body is responding to the pregnancy. These visits are an ideal time to ask your provider any questions about the pregnancy or go over habits you can build to help promote a healthy pregnancy – including foods and activities you should avoid while pregnant. Be sure to follow your provider’s advice rather than relying on popular pregnancy myths.

How Often do I Need Prenatal Care Checkups?

Attending each prenatal care appointment can help support a full-term pregnancy and identify any potential health problems for you or your baby. That’s why it’s vital to attend all appointments, even if you’re feeling perfectly fine. When problems are found early, they can usually be treated early, too. Babies whose mothers did not get prenatal care are three times more likely to have a low birth weight and have a mortality rate five times higher than babies whose mothers did get care.

Prenatal care appointments typically follow this schedule:

  • Weeks 4 to 28 of pregnancy – one checkup every four weeks.
  • Weeks 28 to 36 of pregnancy – one checkup every two weeks.
  • Weeks 36 to 41 of pregnancy – one checkup every week.

Your prenatal care provider may want to see you more frequently if your pregnancy is considered high risk or if you are experiencing complications.

What Can I Expect at a Prenatal Care Visit?

Your first prenatal care visit is typically the longest one you’ll have. You can expect your provider to:

  • Discuss your health history. This can include any health conditions you have, including depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, or obesity; whether you drink alcohol, smoke, or use any drugs; and any prior surgeries or previous pregnancies. For this visit, come prepared with a list of medications you take, including any prescription or over-the-counter medicines, supplements, and herbal products.
  • Review your family's health history.
  • Do a complete physical exam that includes a pelvic exam and pap test.
  • Take your blood and a urine sample.
  • Check your blood pressure, height, and weight.
  • Calculate your due date. This is based on the first day of your last menstrual period (also called LMP), so it’s helpful to make a note of this date before your appointment.
  • Talk about what you can do to help prevent problems and promote a healthy pregnancy.
  • Provide food guidelines you should follow.
  • Ask about your safety at home and work.
  • Go over any prenatal tests or screenings that may be helpful for you, including genetic tests.
  • Answer your questions.

The rest of your prenatal care appointments usually don’t last as long as the first one. After your initial meeting with your prenatal care provider, most appointments will include:

  • Taking your blood pressure.
  • Measuring your weight gain.
  • Checking your baby’s growth by measuring your abdomen.
  • Checking the baby's heart rate.

At later appointments, you can also expect to discuss your baby’s movement, get an ultrasound (typically two during your pregnancy), receive a Tdap vaccination between 27 and 36 weeks, and have pelvic examinations to check for changes in your cervix as you get closer to your due date.

By getting early and regular prenatal care, you’re helping to support a healthy pregnancy – and a healthy life for your baby.