The Importance of Prenatal Care
What is it?
Prenatal care is a program of care for a pregnant woman before
she gives birth to her baby. Most women begin their prenatal care
in the first trimester of pregnancy. Visits to the doctor occur about
once a month during the first six months. The frequency of visits
increases to every two or three weeks for the remainder of the
What Happens at a Prenatal Checkup?
Several tests are performed during these visits. Tests performed
during the first visit include blood tests to check blood type, Rh
factor, anemia, and immunity to several diseases including rubella
(German measles) and hepatitis B. Urine tests to check for sugar
and protein as signs of diabetes and kidney changes, respectively,
are also performed. A Pap test may be done to detect changes in
the cervix that could be forerunners to cancer. Subsequent visits
will include the collection of urine samples to continue to check for
sugar and proteins, measuring blood pressure, measuring weight
to make sure the expectant mother is gaining enough, listening to
the fetal heartbeat (typically after 12 weeks) and checking the size
and position of the uterus and fetus. The doctor can also perform
various tests to check the fetus for birth defects.
Why is it Important?
Prenatal care consists of much more than just monitoring the
mother's diet and weight. Keep in mind that during pregnancy it is
not just the health of the pregnant woman that must be watched, but
also the health of the unborn baby. Maternal difficulties such as
diabetes (which can develop as a result of being pregnant even if
diabetes was not present before), insufficient weight gain, and
high blood pressure, if gone untreated, can be harmful to the fetus.
A doctor can also monitor the baby's well being directly by listening
to the fetal heartbeat, checking the size and positioning of the
uterus and fetus, and testing for various abnormalities. Some
conditions, if detected prenatally, can be treated in-utero (i.e.,
before the baby is born). In other instances, early detection can
allow the proper medical facilities to be present at the time of birth
to allow the baby full access to the help it needs. It is very important
to receive proper prenatal care in order to ensure the health of
both you and your baby.