What is Prenatal Care?
If you’re planning on adding to your family (or maybe you’ve recently received the happy news that you’re expecting!), you’re probably already envisioning life with a new baby. You may even be thinking about things like childproofing the house and learning about the importance of good nutrition for child development.
What you may not realize is, one of the most important ways you can protect and care for your baby comes before they’re ever born. Prenatal care helps safeguard you and your baby throughout your pregnancy, and it gives you the opportunity to make plans and ask the questions you’re sure to have along the way.
When should I schedule my first prenatal appointment?
As soon as you think you may be pregnant, you should contact an obstetrician (a women’s doctor who specializes in pregnancy and delivery) to schedule a prenatal visit. Generally, your first appointment will fall within six to eight weeks after the start of your last menstrual cycle, but it could happen earlier or later depending on your personal circumstances and medical history.
What does prenatal care involve?
During your first prenatal visit, you can expect your doctor to ask a lot of questions about your background (including your medical, gynecologic and reproductive history) and any family history that may be a risk factor for your or your baby. The doctor will perform a physical exam and check your vitals and weight. You may also give blood and/or urine samples and have imaging testing, such as an ultrasound.
In future visits, you’ll focus more on how your pregnancy is progressing. Your doctor will monitor your vitals and weight gain and continue to check your blood and urine samples, since this data can give important clues about how your body is adapting to the pregnancy. Your doctor will let you know which screenings you need along the way and which vitamins you need to support a healthy pregnancy.
Another important aspect of prenatal care is establishing a maternity plan, which includes considerations like your nutrition, exercise and birth plan. This means you’ll talk with your doctor about foods you should and shouldn’t eat, which exercises you can safely continue and for how long, and your hopes for your labor and childbirth.
Why is prenatal care important?
Prenatal care — both keeping up with your regular prenatal visits and the steps you take at home to ensure a safe, healthy pregnancy — is the best way to minimize your risk of complications. Babies who do not receive prenatal care are three times more likely to have a low birth weight, which increases the risk for complications after birth.
Regular visits with your doctor make it more likely you’ll catch a problem early and manage potential concerns. In addition to overseeing your health, part of your prenatal care involves learning about potential risks to the health of your baby, such as using tobacco or alcohol, and avoiding dangerous exposure to things like toxic fumes or radiation.
Ensuring a physically healthy pregnancy is just part of the reason prenatal visits are so important. Your mental health is also a factor in a healthy pregnancy, and even if this isn’t your first baby, it’s normal to have questions and fears as you progress through your pregnancy. Regular prenatal care appointments give you the opportunity to get reassurance about anything that may be worrying you.
Find an OB-GYN in Madison, Indiana
As part of our comprehensive women’s health and family-centered maternity care services, Norton King’s Daughters’ Health offers numerous prenatal care resources, including a series of classes designed for moms- and dads-to-be. If you’re looking for an obstetrician or gynecologist in Madison, Indiana, contact us to learn more about our highly skilled and compassionate team.