Prenatal Care: What to Expect

Your Prenatal Care, A woman gets an ultrasound in early pregnancy

Regular prenatal checkups are an important part of staying healthy while pregnant. During these visits your doctor, nurse or midwife will monitor your baby’s development and do routine testing to find and prevent potential complications. This is also a good time to ask questions and learn important information related to your pregnancy, labor and birth. Additionally, regular checkups can help ease your mind by hearing and knowing that your baby is growing and thriving. 

When should I start my prenatal care?

It’s best to start your prenatal care as soon as you know you are pregnant. Most women have their first prenatal appointment in the first trimester between six to twelve weeks of pregnancy. The timing of your first visit may also depend on your health history and any concerns you might have.

How frequently will I have prenatal care visits?

Scheduling of your visits depends on how far along you are in your pregnancy and whether you have any high-risk complications.

Typically for the first 32 weeks of pregnancy you will see your prenatal care provider once every 4-6 weeks. Then for weeks 32 – 37 you have a check up every 2-3  weeks. And finally after the 37th week you will visit every week until your baby is born.

If you are high-risk or have complications your schedule of visits could be more frequent. 

What should I expect during my first visit?

Even if you are not a first time mother, prenatal visits are still important since every pregnancy is different. Your first prenatal visit is often one of the longest as there is much to cover.

Medical Health History

Your doctor or midwife will ask for your full medical history. This will include: your mental health history, details about your menstrual cycle, previous pregnancies, medications you are taking, family health history, etc. 

General Health Exam

They will perform a physical health exam checking your heart, lungs, breasts, abdomen, etc. This may also include a pelvic exam and pap smear. A baseline will be established for future appointments related to blood pressure, weight, etc. 

Testing & Bloodwork

Your provider will likely have you do a urine test, to confirm your pregnancy, as well as checking on other issues. Your urine will be tested regularly at your check-ups to look out for: gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, UTIs and proper hydration. You will do a blood draw and several laboratory tests will be ordered. 

Establish Your Estimated Due Date

With the information you provide about your last period, or if you know when you conceived, your provider can calculate your estimated due date. Most practitioners will also do an ultrasound at this visit which can help with accurately dating your pregnancy. However, some will wait until a bit later in your pregnancy when there is more to see.

Discuss Self Care During Pregnancy

Your provider will also want to talk about caring for yourself and your baby. This is their chance to educate you on having a healthy pregnancy. Topics covered often include: diet, exercise, nutrition, weight gain, dental care, environmental safety, travel limitations, prenatal vitamins, supplements, medications, and more.

Ask questions

And last but definitely not least, this is your chance to ask questions about your prenatal care, pregnancy and birth choices. You and your partner should make a list ahead of time and bring it with you.

Some questions you may consider asking: 

  • If I experience bleeding or cramping, who do I call? 
  • What situations are considered an emergency? 
  • What type of testing do you recommend and when are they done? (In case you want to do research the tests to decide if you want them or not.)
  • What are your thoughts about natural childbirth?
  • What situations would warrant a cesarean?
  • How long past my expected due date will I be allowed to go before intervening?
  • What is your policy on labor induction
  • Are you comfortable working alongside a birth doula? 

Your first prenatal care appointment is exciting! Things may be starting to feel very real.  You are pregnant and will be welcoming a precious little baby into your family. Enjoy these magical moments. 

Also check out: Choosing an OB/GYN or Midwife? (Hospital, Birth Center or Homebirth)

About Christie Collbran

Christie believes in helping women recognize their own inner wisdom, strength and power. Having served as President of the Tampa Bay Birth Network for six years and with ten years serving families as a birth doula, she has a reputation for leadership, dedication and compassion. A childbirth educator, certified lactation counselor as well as a certified doula, she makes a point of ensuring mothers and their partners understand all their birthing options and what to expect on their journey.> keep reading