Getting prenatal care as soon as you know you're pregnant (or, if possible, before you conceive) and seeing your health care provider regularly as your pregnancy progresses are vital to you and your baby's health. During the first trimester, you'll probably have a checkup once a month. Here's what to expect during the first prenatal visit:
After a blood or urine test confirms your pregnancy, your caregiver will give you a complete medical exam. She'll also take a detailed medical history and assess any pregnancy risks. She'll need honest answers about your lifestyle, too. For example:
Having a clear, complete picture of your medical history and lifestyle helps your caregiver provide the best care possible, so it's important not to leave out any details -- even embarrassing ones.
Next, she'll give you a variety of blood tests. These include a test to determine your Rh status. Having a different Rh status than your fetus can, in rare cases, cause Rh disease, which may lead to serious illness or even death for your baby. This is easily prevented if Rh incompatibility is spotted early. Your doctor will also check your blood for signs of exposure to syphilis, rubella, hepatitis B, and possibly HIV, too. Other lab work includes urine tests for infection or diabetes and a cervical culture to check for sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and Chlamydia. Your doctor might also recommend genetic testing that can assess risk.
Your doctor will also talk about nutrition during pregnancy. In addition to warning you away from alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco, she may advise you to consume more protein, calcium, iron, and fluids. Since it can be hard to get enough of certain nutrients, such as folic acid, she will recommend that you take a daily prenatal vitamin.
Unless a health condition prevents it, your caregiver will encourage you to exercise. Keeping fit during pregnancy helps you maintain your aerobic capacity, muscle strength, and flexibility -- not to mention gear up for the marathon of labor and delivery. Many women enjoy yoga, swimming, and brisk walking throughout their pregnancies. Now is not the time to embark on a challenging new program, though. If you haven't been exercising regularly, ask your caregiver to suggest a safe plan that starts out slowly.
If you are otherwise healthy and your pregnancy seems uncomplicated, you can count on going to the doctor once a month for the first 28 weeks, at which point you'll go every two to three weeks until week 37, and then weekly until you deliver. The actual schedule varies, however, depending upon your health care provider, and if you are in a high- or low-risk category.
Each visit will include checking your blood pressure, testing your urine for protein and glucose, and listening to the baby’s heartbeat and measuring to see that your baby is growing well. You’ll also have the chance to ask questions about pregnancy care, labor and delivery, and any concerns you may have. Keep a notebook to jot down questions as you think of them between visits, so you can get the information you need.
Review Date: 12/9/2012
Reviewed By: Irina Burd, MD, PhD, Maternal Fetal Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.