Having a healthy birth begins with having a healthy pregnancy and having a healthy pregnancy means receiving quality prenatal care. Prenatal care is the medical care you receive during pregnancy. Throughout your pregnancy, Pregnancy by Design offers nutrition, exercise and emotional tips and support to help you have the healthiest pregnancy but it’s still extremely important that you seek out regular prenatal care in early pregnancy.
One of the first things you will want to do after having a positive pregnancy test is to find a pregnancy provider that you are comfortable with. Here is a post on choosing a birth care provider.
Your first prenatal care visit will be around 8-10 weeks after your last menstrual period. Providers wait to see you until this time in order to hear the baby’s heartbeat on a Doppler or ultrasound. Don’t panic if your provider is unable to hear the heartbeat because that is more likely to occur between 12-14 weeks.
Pregnancy is often measured in months, weeks and trimesters (a trimester is approximately 3 months). Below is a simple chart that lays out the different stages of pregnancy in trimesters, weeks and months.
Benefits of Regular Prenatal Care:
- Reduces the risk of pregnancy complications
- Helps ensure the medications a woman is taking are safe. Certain medications, including certain acne medications, should be avoided during pregnancy because they can harm the baby.
- Women receiving late* or no prenatal care are more likely to have babies with health problems
*Not seeing a provider until the 3rd trimester
How do I Prepare for My First Prenatal Appointment?
It’s a good idea to spend some time preparing for your first prenatal care appointment. Here are some things to do before you meet with your midwife or doctor for the first time:
Fill Out Patient Forms Prior to Your Appointment if Available
Call your health provider’s office and ask if there are any forms that can be filled out prior to your first pregnancy visit. This helps to save some time and allows you to track down information ahead of time.
Collect Health Info
It’s a good idea to be prepared with the following information:
- Medical/health conditions
- Your GYN records (pap smear, pap test results, cervical cancer and breast health results)
- Date of your last menstrual period (LMP) to determine your estimated due date
- Your history of abortion(s) and/or miscarriage(s)
- Any hospitalizations
- Medications and supplements you’re currently taking
- Any allergies you may have to medications
- Your family members’ medical history
Prepare Questions You’d Like to Ask During the First Pregnancy Visit
Your first prenatal appointment is a great time to ask any questions and to share any concerns you may have with your provider. The questions should help you get a better idea of your potential provider’s approach to care and philosophy. Here are some sample questions that you may want to ask:
- What is your philosophy about natural birth?
- What is your policy on eating and drinking during labor?
- How long past my expected due date will I be able to go before intervention is required?
- What kind of labor pain relief options do you often recommend?
- What is your policy on labor induction?
- Will I have a chance to get to know each of the doctors or midwives that will potentially be on call during my labor?
- What circumstances/situations would warrant a c-section?
If your first visit with a provider leaves you with a bad feeling, consider meeting with another provider. Many women begin by going to the provider who had done their annual GYN care but find they aren’t a good fit for their prenatal care. Visiting with a provider once per year is much different than meeting with them more regularly.
Consider interviewing different types of providers such as an OBGYN, a Midwife and/or a Family Physician.
If you’re still deciding which provider to go with, My Birth Profile Assessment can help you choose a provider based on your personality, health factors and over all preferences.
Another great resource is the The Complete Guide to Writing a Birth Plan to help ask some more in depth questions to your provider regarding your care.
Even if you’ve already settled on your provider, it’s common to still have some questions about what to expect during your pregnancy, and what symptoms or concerns you may have.
What Tests and Procedures Can I Expect at My First Prenatal Visit?
During your first appointment your pregnancy provider will likely:
- Take a urine sample to check for any infections and take a prenatal test to confirm your pregnancy
- Measure your blood pressure, weight and height
- Ask you about your own health as well as your family history
- Determine your due date (link to due date post)
- Discuss prenatal nutrition, including prenatal vitamins
- Discuss early pregnancy symptoms you may be experiencing such as morning sickness, headaches or other discomforts
- Ask you about your lifestyle such as your stress level, whether you exercise regularly, drink alcohol, smoke or take any drugs
- Do prenatal blood tests (to determine your blood type, Rh (Rhesus) factor, complete blood count (CBS) and test for diseases such as hepatitis B & C, HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Tuberculosis (TB) and rubella).
- Perform a physical exam and possibly a pelvic exam
- Use a Doppler or ultrasound to listen to baby’s heartbeat (depends on the week of pregnancy)
- Talk about screening tests and genetic testing options to screen for Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis and other birth defects and genetic disorders.
How Often Will I Have Prenatal Appointments with My Doctor or Midwife?
In a healthy pregnancy* your appointments will look something like:
- Weeks 4 to 28 – Once per Month
- Weeks 28 to 36 – Every 2 Weeks
- Weeks 36 to Birth – Every Week
* If you have certain risk factors, your health care provider may wish to see you more often.
What Can I Expect at Future Prenatal Care Appointments?
Your future prenatal visits will vary as your pregnancy progresses; however, as a general rule of thumb, you can expect that your health provider will:
- Check blood pressure (to rule out high blood pressure)
- Measure weight gain
- Measure “fundal height” ( this is measured in centimeters and is the distance from your pubic bone to the top of your uterus. After 20 weeks of pregnancy, your fundal height is often the same as the number of weeks you’ve been pregnant – i.e.- if you are 25 weeks pregnant, your fundal height will be around 25 centimeters. This may not be the case if you are obese, carrying twins, or have a history of fibroids)
- Check the fetal heart rate
- Check your hands and feet for swelling
- Feel your abdomen to find the fetus’s position (later in pregnancy)
- Prenatal testing, such as blood tests or an ultrasound exam
- Urine tests to ensure you do not have a UTI, gestational diabetes, or preeclampsia.
- Several visits will include special testing including a test for gestational diabetes (this usually occurs between 24-28 weeks) and Group B Strep or GBS (usually done between 35-37 weeks)
If you have any questions about anything, be sure to talk it over with your provider. It will make things easier for you if you write your questions down and bring them with you to each appointment. If you are not given adequate time to have your questions answered, you may want to consider switching to a provider you are more comfortable with.
Disclaimer: Pregnancy by Design’s information is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Always ask your healthcare provider about any health concerns you may have.
Child Trends Databank. (2015). Late or no prenatal care. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/?late-or-no-prenatal-care
American Pregnancy Association. (2015). Your first prenatal visit. Retrieved from https://americanpregnancy.org/planning/first-prenatal-visit/
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2014). Frequently asked questions. FAQ133. Pregnancy: Routine tests in pregnancy. Retrieved from https://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq133.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120612T2343414674
Peter JR, et al. Symphysial fundal height (SFH) measurement in pregnancy for detecting abnormal fetal growth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Retrieved from
Free Video Guide on Creating Your Birth Plan!
The Complete Guide to Writing Your Birth Plan is a step by step walk-through of the most important aspects of creating an effective birth plan. The guide covers everything you need to know from interviewing a provider, comfort measures and additional 1-page birth plan to talk over with your provider. Get free access today!