Prenatal care is care given to you and your baby before the baby is born. Nearly one third of women have some kind of pregnancy related complication. If you do not get adequate prenatal care you run the risk that a complication may go undetected or may not be identified early enough to be corrected.
All pregnant women can benefit from prenatal care. Women who see a health care provider regularly during pregnancy have healthier babies, are less likely to deliver prematurely, and are less likely to have other serious problems related to pregnancy.
Statistics show that every year approximately 1 million American women deliver a baby without receiving adequate prenatal care and medical attention. While many of these women and their children have no problems, a baby born to a mother who not received prenatal care is 3 times more likely to be born at low birth weight and 5 times more likely to die, than those whose mothers received prenatal care.
These statistics are presented not to scare you but to help you recognize the importance of prenatal care. Providers of prenatal care are typically obstetricians (doctors) who specialize in pregnancy and childbirth, family doctors who provide medical care for patients of any age, and certified midwives or nurse-midwives who specialize in women's health care needs, including prenatal care, labor and delivery, and postpartum care.
Your health care provider will give you a schedule of the visits you should have while pregnant. Most health care providers suggest about 1 visit each month for months 1-6 of the pregnancy, every other week for the 7th and 8th months of pregnancy, and then every week until the baby's birth.
Regarding the prenatal visits, your first appointment is usually longer than subsequent appointments. At your first visit your health care provider will typically:
Take a family medical history for you and the father.
Identify any potential problems in your pregnancy.
Discuss with you any medications you are taking.
Do a physical exam and a pelvic (internal) exam.
Have you provide blood and a urine sample..
Take a pap smear to check for cancer and other vaginal infections.
Estimate the gestational age and estimate a due date.
Advise you to take a prenatal vitamin and folic acid.
Answer your questions about pregnancy.
In future visits your health care provider will usually:
Conduct prenatal testing such as ultrasound.
Weigh you and check your blood pressure.
Measure your belly to see how the baby is growing
Check for body swelling.
Listen for the baby's heartbeat (after the 12th week of pregnancy).
Answer your questions and concerns and help educate you about, and prepare you for, labor and delivery.
In addition to getting prenatal care you need to take extra care of yourself and your baby:
Exercise and keep active.
Stay away from all street drugs.
Give up eating junk food.
Check with your health care provider about taking any medication.
Check out more detailed tips on the page pregnancy dos and don'ts.
Free or reduced-cost prenatal care
There are federal and state programs in every U.S. state to help a woman receive and pay for prenatal care during her pregnancy. Programs give medical care, information, advice, and other services important for a healthy pregnancy. To find out about the programs in your state, click on the following links:
Government Programs For Pregnant Women and Children
For additional information and help visit:
National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC)
Phone Number: 1-800-994-9662
National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
Phone Number(s): (770) 488-7150, (888) 232-6789
March of Dimes
Phone Number(s): (914) 428-7100, (888) 663-4637
The Nemours Foundation
Phone Number: (302) 651-4046
Kids Health: Prenatal medical care
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