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Your Prenatal Care Schedule: What to Expect

Katlyn Joy |22, October 2012


You've probably taken a home pregnancy test. Maybe a few of them. You know prenatal care is vital for you and your unborn child's health, but when exactly do you schedule that first visit and what will happen that time and every time after?

The average pregnant woman sees her healthcare provider between 10 and 15 times before the child's birth. Usually the schedule is once a month through the first two trimesters, then every other week until week 36 when visits increase to weekly.

The First Prenatal Visit

Expect this first visit to be long compared to later doctor appointments. You'll be getting a lot of information at this visit and there will be some tests as well. Schedule this first appointment as soon as you know the big news (or suspect it.)

At this visit you will be asked lots and lots of questions, to gather a full medical history. Be prepared to answer the following:

1. When was your last period? Likely you'll need to give details such as how often and how long your periods last, whether they are irregular and when you first began menstruating.

2. Is this your first pregnancy? You'll need to let the doctor know if you ever miscarried, had a child, or terminated a pregnancy previously. If there is a history of other pregnancies, the doctor will need to know the outcome and the types of pregnancies and labors you had if there were live births.

3. You'll need to give a detailed medical history including any chronic health concerns, hospitalizations, surgeries, significant family medical history and whether you have had problems with your blood pressure, heart or if you've had diabetes yourself or in your family.

4. What birth control methods you have previously used, as well as any other prescriptions or other medications you have used. You'll also be asked about alcohol and recreational drug use.

5. You'll be asked questions to determine if you are a victim of domestic abuse and what supports you have in place.

You will have your blood drawn. This is to determine your blood type, including whether or not you are Rh negative. Your hemoglobin level will be checked to make sure you are not anemic. You'll be tested for immunity to illnesses such as chicken pox, rubella and such and for infections such as hepatatis STDs and HIV.

A thorough physical exam will be conducted, including a pelvic and breast exam. You'll be weighed, and your blood pressure checked. Your heart and lungs will be listened to as well.

You'll need to give a urine sample, and this will happen at every subsequent visit as well to check for infection and protein in the urine that would indicate the possibility of pre-eclampsia.

Your doctor will discuss healthcare and lifestyle issues with you, including what to expect in the coming weeks, what your diet should be, how you should keep active and activities to avoid. You'll be given the opportunity to ask questions as well, so if there are any pressing ones, you may want to write them down as you may be overwhelmed especially at this first visit.

The big news will be the official due date. Your doctor may or may not perform an ultrasound at this visit. If so, it will likely be a transvaginal one where a wand is inserted into the vagina since at this early stage of pregnancy this is the only way to see what's happening.

Later Prenatal Visits

During the first trimester, the visits will be short and sweet. Weighing, checking vitals, and giving a urine sample are typical components. You will get measured to see how your uterus is growing.

You will not be undergoing regular pelvic exams, however. Don't expect those again until late in pregnancy when the baby could be almost ready. This may change if there are any questions or concerns that require a check of the cervix such as unexplained bleeding.

Later in pregnancy tests will be done, for gestational diabetes, to screen for abnormalities if desired, and such. You will likely get another sonogram if you got one at the first visit. If you didn't at the first visit, you will get at least one later.

The favorite part of the visits for most parents is when the doctor uses a doppler device to listen in to the baby's heartbeat. This reassuring sound is a highlight for most families.

At every visit there will be the opportunity to ask questions and share concerns. Be sure to ask away. Also, as the big day grows closer, you will be discussing more about when to call the doctor and what to expect during labor and delivery. You may during later visits want to come up with a birth plan with your doctor too. This plan outlines the best options and plans, and alternatives for your labor. For instance, do you want to avoid electronic fetal monitoring during early labor? Are you wanting an epidural or trying to go natural?

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