How’s your baby doing in there — and how are you doing out here? Regular prenatal appointments are the way to find out.
Yay, you have a baby on the way! Go ahead and enjoy all the fun stuff that goes along with being a mom-to-be, like scouring baby-name books and picking that perfect paint color for your baby’s bedroom. But make sure you take care of business too — setting up a prenatal appointment schedule is an important item on your to-do list right now. Your health-care professional can answer all your day-to-day questions about symptoms and tests. An ob-gyn, a family doctor trained in ob-gyn, or midwife is an expert on the hallmarks of a healthy pregnancy and the potential signs of trouble, so regular visits are an absolute must! Here’s what you need to know about prenatal appointments.
The Magic Number
How many prenatal appointments you’ll have depends on a couple of factors: when you first go to see your practitioner (call as soon as you know you’re preggers), whether you have any risk factors, and — if this isn’t your first — whether you’ve given birth early or late before. In general, though, you’ll visit monthly during your first and second trimesters, then every other week until around 36 weeks, and finally, every week until the birth. All that adds up to about 10 to 15 appointments.
Prenatal appointments increase as your belly does because complications like preeclampsia (a condition that includes high blood pressure during pregnancy) are more likely to crop up as you near the finish line. Baby-growth issues also tend to appear later in pregnancy, so your practitioner will want to measure your weight, belly size, and other growth indicators more often in the last trimester.
During every prenatal appointment, your practitioner will take your blood pressure, assess the size of your uterus (vaginally, or by measuring your belly, or via an ultrasound), weigh you, and take a urine sample to check for too much protein, which can be a sign of preeclampsia.
Other tests you can expect during various visits: pelvic exams, breast exams, Pap smears, ultrasounds, palpations (to check the baby’s position), Doppler scans to hear the baby’s heartbeat, and blood tests (to check for hepatitis, HIV, and more). Which tests you’ll get and how many you’ll have vary according to your risk for certain conditions and when you start your prenatal appointments — if you don’t begin until later in pregnancy (because you didn’t realize initially that you were pregnant, for example), some tests, like a nuchal translucency screening test, may no longer be possible to take.
There are plenty of prenatal genetic screening tests: Some you may be particularly interested in because your or your partner’s ethnic background has a higher risk factor associated with it or because of family history. Others you may decide you just don’t want to do. One commonly performed genetic test is amniocentesis, which screens for certain conditions and chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome. The latest technology, noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT), is available as early as nine weeks, so be sure to discuss your options and the risks and benefits of the different genetic tests with your practitioner early to decide if you should undergo them.
During each prenatal appointment, your practitioner should ask how you’re doing physically and emotionally, answer all your questions, offer tips on caring for yourself and your baby-to-be, and give you a heads-up about changes to expect and red flags to look out for before your next visit.
Your job is to show up for every prenatal appointment armed with questions and details on any changes in your health. Many moms-to-be, faced with new information and tests at every visit, forget what they wanted to ask or share — only to remember afterward in the parking lot outside the office! — so write down anything you want to tell your doctor or midwife.
And now, onward to a happy, healthy pregnancy!
This article appeared first in What To Expect