Prenatal care is health care during pregnancy. It helps you and your unborn baby (fetus) stay as healthy as possible.
Prenatal care may be provided by a midwife, a family practice health care provider, or a childbirth and pregnancy specialist (obstetrician).
How does this affect me?
During pregnancy, you will be closely monitored for any new conditions that might develop. To lower your risk of pregnancy complications, you and your health care provider will talk about any underlying conditions you have.
How does this affect my baby?
Early and consistent prenatal care increases the chance that your baby will be healthy during pregnancy. Prenatal care lowers the risk that your baby will be:
- Born early (prematurely).
- Smaller than expected at birth (small for gestational age).
What can I expect at the first prenatal care visit?
Your first prenatal care visit will likely be the longest. You should schedule your first prenatal care visit as soon as you know that you are pregnant. Your first visit is a good time to talk about any questions or concerns you have about pregnancy. At your visit, you and your health care provider will talk about:
- Your medical history, including:
- Any past pregnancies.
- Your family’s medical history.
- The baby’s father’s medical history.
- Any long-term (chronic) health conditions you have and how you manage them.
- Any surgeries or procedures you have had.
- Any current over-the-counter or prescription medicines, herbs, or supplements you are taking.
- Other factors that could pose a risk to your baby, including:
- Your home setting and your stress levels, including:
- Exposure to abuse or violence.
- Household financial strain.
- Mental health conditions you have.
- Your daily health habits, including diet and exercise.
Your health care provider will also:
- Measure your weight, height, and blood pressure.
- Do a physical exam, including a pelvic and breast exam.
- Perform blood tests and urine tests to check for:
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Low iron levels in your blood (anemia).
- Blood type and certain proteins on red blood cells (Rh antibodies).
- Infections and immunity to viruses, such as hepatitis B and rubella.
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).
- Do an ultrasound to confirm your baby’s growth and development and to help predict your estimated due date (EDD). This ultrasound is done with a probe that is inserted into the vagina (transvaginal ultrasound).
- Discuss your options for genetic screening.
- Give you information about how to keep yourself and your baby healthy, including:
- Nutrition and taking vitamins.
- Physical activity.
- How to manage pregnancy symptoms such as nausea and vomiting (morning sickness).
- Infections and substances that may be harmful to your baby and how to avoid them.
- Food safety.
- Dental care.
- Warning signs to watch for and when to call your health care provider.
How often will I have prenatal care visits?
After your first prenatal care visit, you will have regular visits throughout your pregnancy. The visit schedule is often as follows:
- Up to week 28 of pregnancy: once every 4 weeks.
- 28–36 weeks: once every 2 weeks.
- After 36 weeks: every week until delivery.
Some women may have visits more or less often depending on any underlying health conditions and the health of the baby.
Keep all follow-up and prenatal care visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.
What happens during routine prenatal care visits?
Your health care provider will:
- Measure your weight and blood pressure.
- Check for fetal heart sounds.
- Measure the height of your uterus in your abdomen (fundal height). This may be measured starting around week 20 of pregnancy.
- Check the position of your baby inside your uterus.
- Ask questions about your diet, sleeping patterns, and whether you can feel the baby move.
- Review warning signs to watch for and signs of labor.
- Ask about any pregnancy symptoms you are having and how you are
dealing with them. Symptoms may include:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Vaginal discharge.
- Any discomfort, including back or pelvic pain.
Make a list of questions to ask your health care provider at your routine visits.
What tests might I have during prenatal care visits?
You may have blood, urine, and imaging tests throughout your pregnancy, such as:
- Urine tests to check for glucose, protein, or signs of infection.
- Glucose tests to check for a form of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy (gestational diabetes mellitus). This is usually done around week 24 of pregnancy.
- An ultrasound to check your baby’s growth and development and to check for birth defects. This is usually done around week 20 of pregnancy.
- A test to check for group B strep (GBS) infection. This is usually done around week 36 of pregnancy.
- Genetic testing. This may include blood or imaging tests, such as an ultrasound. Some genetic tests are done during the first trimester and some are done during the second trimester.
What else can I expect during prenatal care visits?
Your health care provider may recommend getting certain vaccines during pregnancy. These may include:
- A yearly flu shot (annual influenza vaccine). This is especially important if you will be pregnant during flu season.
- Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) vaccine. Getting this vaccine during pregnancy can protect your baby from whooping cough (pertussis) after birth. This vaccine may be recommended between weeks 27 and 36 of pregnancy.
Later in your pregnancy, your health care provider may give you information about:
- Childbirth and breastfeeding classes.
- Choosing a health care provider for your baby.
- Umbilical cord banking.
- Birth control after your baby is born.
- The hospital labor and delivery unit and how to tour it.
- Registering at the hospital before you go into labor.
Seek Additional Information
- Office on Women’s Health: womenshealth.gov
- American Pregnancy Association: americanpregnancy.org
- March of Dimes: marchofdimes.org
- Prenatal care helps you and your baby stay as healthy as possible during pregnancy.
- Your first prenatal care visit will most likely be the longest.
- You will have visits and tests throughout your pregnancy to monitor your health and your baby’s health.
- Bring a list of questions to your visits to ask your health care provider.
- Make sure to keep all follow-up and prenatal care visits with your health care provider.