The Importance Of Prenatal Care

By:    Published: June 11, 2014

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Shortly after learning that they are pregnant, many expectant mothers start daydreaming about decorating the nursery and picking out the baby’s coming home outfit.  The happiness and excitement of preparing the home for a new baby is normal, however, preparing your body for the tremendous journey at hand is much more important. One of the most important things an expectant mother can do for her baby is to receive good prenatal care.

Start With Pre-Conception Care

Pre-conception care is intended to address the physical and emotional needs of the mother prior to conceiving, so that she can start out her pregnancy in the best possible health.

  • If you are ready to start trying to conceive, schedule an appointment with your health care provider for a pre-pregnancy check-up.
  • During this visit, your doctor will take your medical history and perform routine tests to check for conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • If any conditions are found, your doctor will instruct you on how to treat them and help bring them under control, something that is usually much easier to do before pregnancy rather than during.

What Type Of Prenatal Care

When it comes to prenatal care, you have a few options to choose from in terms of who will care for you during your pregnancy. The type of prenatal care you receive has a lot to do with your personal philosophy on pregnancy, child birth and raising a family.

  • General family doctors provide medical services for all ages. Some, though not all, provide prenatal care to pregnant women. Because family doctors treat men, women and children, they do not have as much experience with pregnancy as doctors who specialize in the field. This option is good for women who have an uncomplicated, low risk pregnancy. Because conditions can develop over the course of the pregnancy that require specialized care, women who opt for a family physician should understand that they may need to change to a new doctor half way through the pregnancy if the need arises.
  • Obstetricians/Gynecologists, known as OB/GYN’s, treat only women. They specialize in women’s health and treat both pregnant and non-pregnant women. The majority of women who are pregnant receive their medical care from OB/GYN’s during pregnancy. This is likely due to the fact that they were already receiving their women’s health care from their gynecologist prior to conceiving, and have therefor already developed a comfortable relationship with the doctor. In addition, an OB/GYN can address any issues that may develop after pregnancy, including post-pregnancy complications.
  • Obstetricians are specialized doctors who only treat pregnant women. They specialize in all areas of pregnancy and delivery. Because obstetricians only handle pregnancy and childbirth, they have a vast wealth of knowledge of all things pregnancy related.
  • Certified Nurse-Midwives are nurses who have received additional training in women’s health and obstetrics. Although they are not doctors, they have undergone many years of specialized medical training. Nurse mid-wives can practice on their own or under the supervision of a doctor. Laws governing the limitations of nurse-midwives vary from state to state. Nurse-midwives are a good choice for women who prefer a more natural approach to pregnancy and childbirth. Many nurse-midwives work in home settings and birthing centers, although they are becoming increasingly common in traditional doctor’s offices as well. If you decide to go with a nurse-midwife, it is a good idea to find one who works alongside a practicing physician who can handle any emergencies that may arise during pregnancy or delivery.

When To Schedule Your Prenatal Check-up

It is a good idea to schedule your first prenatal visit as soon as you find out that you are pregnant. Doctors like to perform the first visit sometime between 6 and 8 weeks of pregnancy. Because you will likely be 4-5 weeks pregnant when you first miss your period, calling your physician immediately will allow you to be seen during that preferred window.

What To Expect At The First Visit

  • At your first visit, you will have a consultation with your health care provider.
  • A complete medical history questionnaire will need to be filled out.
  • You will be asked questions about your present health, any underlying medical conditions, your diet and your lifestyle in general.
  • Your doctor will want to know the date of your last menstrual period so that the age of the pregnancy can be better estimated.
  • Your doctor will perform a complete physical and will do a pelvic exam.
  • In addition, she will order a series of blood tests. These tests will include a complete blood count to check for any infections or abnormalities, as well as blood typing and a check for immunity to diseases such as measles and varicella (chicken pox).
  • Your weight will be recorded and your urine will be checked.
  • Your doctor may or may not perform a pap smear, depending on how long ago you last received one.

What To Expect At Subsequent Visits

Women who are experiencing regular, uncomplicated pregnancies that are not high-risk can expect to visit their physician once per month up until the 7th month of pregnancy. At 7 months, many physicians will want to see you more often, usually every 2 weeks. This will continue up until the final 4 weeks of pregnancy, at which time you will be seen once per week. Your weight will be recorded at each visit and your doctor will likely measure the height of your uterus and the position of the baby by gently palpating the uterus through the abdomen.Your doctor will speak with you about the stage of development the pregnancy has reached and will ask about any new symptoms you may be experiencing.

Routine Testing At Each Visit

  • A urine sample will be required to check for traces of sugar or protein in the urine.
  • If protein in the urine is detected, additional monitoring and testing will be done to rule out Preeclampsia, a dangerous pregnancy complication that is characterized by protein in the urine and high blood pressure.
  • Sugar in the urine can indicate Gestational Diabetes.
  • Your doctor will also check for any swelling to make sure you are not retaining fluids, a common symptom of Preeclampsia.

Prenatal Tests

  • Halfway through the pregnancy, you will undergo a glucose screening test to check for Gestational Diabetes.
  • Women will be offered a blood test to check AFP (alpha-feta protein) levels during the second trimester. AFP is a protein secreted by the baby. AFP levels can alert doctors to possible complication such as Down Syndrome, Spina Bifida or even a multiple pregnancy.
  • Between the 18th and 22nd week of pregnancy, your doctor will order a routine ultrasound screening. This test will check the baby’s anatomy and measurements to make sure all parts of the body, including the heart and brain, are developing normally.
  • More invasive tests, such as an amniocentesis or CVS (chronic villus sampling) may be ordered if doctors determine they would be helpful in ruling out certain conditions. Because these tests carry some risk of miscarriage or preterm labor, many women choose to skip them.

Common Pregnancy Complications

There are some conditions that, although not normal, are very common during pregnancy.

  • Gestational Diabetes is a condition that develops during pregnancy and usually disappears once the baby is delivered. It usually occurs during the second trimester, and is easily detected during a routine glucose tolerance test. This type of Diabetes is the result of the hormones excreted by the placenta and the effect they have on insulin levels.
  • Another common condition during pregnancy is Preeclampsia. Also known as Toxemia, this is a serious complication that requires careful supervision for the remainder of the pregnancy. Usually occurring after the 6 month mark, it is characterized by high blood pressure, fluid retention, swelling of the hands, feet and face, and protein in the urine.
  • Rh-incompatibility is a serious condition that occurs when mothers do not have any Rh in the blood. When this occurs, they are considered Rh negative. The problem arises is the baby is Rh positive. When this happens, your body can make antibodies to the baby’s blood when it passes into your bloodstream. Those antibodies can get into the baby’s blood and attack the red blood cells that are present. This condition requires careful monitoring throughout the pregnancy.

Most women will have an uncomplicated, low-risk pregnancy. Even the majority of those who do suffer from any of the conditions listed above will likely go on to deliver a healthy baby. Although pregnancy complications can be very serious, for the most part, they are easily managed with proper prenatal care.

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