As soon as a woman discovers she is pregnant, she should establish a schedule of prenatal care with her healthcare provider for her entire pregnancy. For normal pregnancies without significant complications, prenatal exams are usually scheduled as follows:
- Every month from the 1st week through the 28th week
- Every two weeks from the 29th week through the 36th week
- Weekly from the 37th week until delivery
This schedule may vary depending on your personal medical condition and your healthcare provider's preference. Additional prenatal care may be necessary if there are any preexisting medical conditions, like diabetes present in the mother and/or if complications arise while carrying the baby to term.
Who provides prenatal care?
Prenatal care can be provided by various medical professionals, including the following:
- Obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN). A healthcare provider who has specialized training in the care of women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. An OB-GYN also specializes in many gynecological health issues.
- Family physician (FP). A healthcare provider who has specialized training in primary care, including obstetrics.
- Nurse practitioner. A nurse with specialized training who can provide women's health care. Nurse practitioners are certified by either the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners or the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
- Certified nurse midwife (CNM). A nurse who has additional training to care for women with low-risk pregnancies. Some midwives work with healthcare providers while some work on an independent basis. CNMs are certified by the American College of Nurse Midwives.
- Perinatologist. An obstetrician who specializes in care of women with high-risk pregnancies. Perinatologists are also called maternal-fetal specialists.
Obstetricians (and other healthcare providers who specialize in maternal-fetal medicine, reproductive endocrinology, and/or infertility) are certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Almost 2,000 obstetricians are certified annually.
What happens during the prenatal care visits?
The goal of prenatal care is not only to provide the best care for the pregnant woman and the unborn child, but also to prepare the mother-to-be for the delivery of a healthy baby. During prenatal visits, tests are performed on both the mother and the baby to assess any potential risks, to treat any maternal or fetal complications, and to keep an eye on the growth and development of the fetus. In addition, counseling and guidance are provided regarding various aspects of pregnancy, including weight gain, exercise, nutrition, and overall health. A typical prenatal visit may include any/all of the following:
- Weight measurement
- Blood pressure measurement
- Measurement of the uterus to check for proper growth of the fetus
- Physical exam of the mother to identify problems or discomforts, like swelling of the hands and feet
- Urine test to measure sugar and protein levels. This can indicate diabetes or preeclampsia (a condition characterized by high blood pressure, proteinuria, and swelling due to fluid retention). However, swelling does not need to be present to make the diagnosis. And having swelling does not always mean a woman has preeclampsia.
- Fetal heart rate measurement
- Prenatal screening tests like blood tests to check for anemia