Quick look at pregnancy care
Pregnancy care is the healthcare a pregnant woman receives prior to childbirth (prenatal care) and directly after delivery (postpartum). It is important that every woman have prenatal care to make sure that she and her baby are as healthy as possible.
Services include physician consultation, pregnancy tests, ultrasound and lab tests. Nutritional and health education are also provided.
The benefit of regular care is that it helps doctors identify any health problems or issues with the pregnancy. In addition, these appointments can help women and their families feel more prepared for the birth of their baby.
The first step in prenatal care is choosing a doctor you trust to help you with your pregnancy.
What is prenatal care?
Prenatal (meaning before birth) care is the focus of a mother’s healthcare while she is pregnant. Women who are thinking about becoming pregnant or currently are pregnant should learn about prenatal care. Getting early and regular prenatal care promotes a successful pregnancy.
At a woman’s first prenatal appointment, our doctors will give her a schedule of all the visits that are necessary during pregnancy. Following is the typical schedule for checkups during a pregnancy:
- Weeks 0 to 28, every four weeks
- Weeks 28 to 36, every two to three weeks
- Weeks 36 to birth, once a week.
During these visits doctors will check on the mother’s health, as well as see if the baby is developing and growing normally. There are also a number of prenatal exams and tests that a doctor will recommend throughout the pregnancy. Women with high-risk pregnancies may have to receive additional care and see their doctor more frequently.
What to expect with a prenatal care checkup
During a patient’s first visit the doctor will do a full physical exam, pelvic exam, Pap smear, blood tests, urine tests and calculate the baby’s due date. The doctor will also ask questions about a patient’s medical history, lifestyle, diet, general health and more.
In later prenatal visits a doctor will examine the baby’s heart rate. The doctor will also check the mother’s blood pressure and weight, as well as her abdomen to assess the baby’s growth.
Prenatal exams and testing
Prenatal tests check on a mother’s health and baby’s development during a pregnancy. The type of exam given will often depend on how far along a woman is in her pregnancy, or if the doctor detects possible health problems. Depending on the parents’ family histories, patients and their doctors may also make the decision to screen or test for genetic problems. The following list includes some common prenatal tests.
- Amniocentesis: Evaluation of amniotic fluid containing fetal cells to diagnose certain birth defects such as Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis or spina bifida.
- Biophysical profile (BPP): Monitors the overall health of the baby and placenta via fetal heart rate monitoring and ultrasound.
- Chorionic villus sampling: A sample of tissue from the placenta can diagnose certain birth defects including chromosomal and genetic disorders.
- First trimester screening: Detects pregnancies at high risk for chromosomal disorders and other issues such as heart defects.
- Glucose tolerance test: Diagnosis of gestational diabetes.
- Group B streptococcus culture: Tests for bacteria that can cause newborn health problems.
- Maternal serum screening: Detects pregnancies at high risk for chromosomal disorders or neural tube defects.
- Nonstress test (NST): Fetal heart rate monitoring that can assess fetal and placental wellbeing.
- Ultrasound exam: Utilizing high-frequency soundwaves, this imaging test can be performed during a pregnancy to look at the baby’s growth and development. It also may be able to determine the gender of the baby.
- Urine test: Looks for urinary tract infections, diabetes and preeclampsia in a pregnant woman.
Health problems that occur during pregnancy can involve the health of the mother, the baby or both. Some prenatal tests can help prevent these problems or spot them early. However, women should be aware of their body and if they notice any unusual symptoms, they should notify their doctor. Pregnancy complications include:
- Gestational diabetes
- High blood pressure during pregnancy (preeclampsia)
- Problems with placenta, including placenta previa or placental abruption
- Vaginal bleeding
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Preterm labor
High-risk pregnancy care
High-risk prenatal care is necessary if a woman has particular medical issues prior to conceiving, or if the pregnancy becomes complicated. Women who have been identified with a high-risk pregnancy usually need to see a doctor more frequently. The following medical conditions can affect a pregnancy and define it as high risk:
- A mother older than 35
- Risks identified in medical history
- Chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes
- Multiple gestation (twins or more)
- Overweight or underweight
- Problems with a previous pregnancy, such as preterm delivery
- Harmful lifestyle choices.
Twin pregnancy care
A pregnancy with twins or higher multiples (triplets, etc.) requires special prenatal care. A mother with twins should expect more frequent checkups, ultrasounds and other tests. Doctors will put more emphasis on a healthy diet and prenatal vitamins & nutrients for women with twins. Mothers with twins also might be cautioned to limit their physical exercise more than other pregnant mothers.
What is postpartum care?
Postpartum care refers to the healthcare given to a woman after birth, when her body is changing back to normal. It lasts about six weeks or until her uterus returns to its normal size.
The type of care a woman receives after giving birth depends on the route of delivery. Typically, a follow-up exam is needed six weeks after a vaginal delivery or two weeks after a C-section.
It is very important that postpartum mothers get enough rest to allow their bodies to recover during this time.
Common issues after delivery may include:
- Pain and soreness
- Vaginal bleeding and discharge
- Constipation and hemorrhoids
- Frequent or painful urination
- Breast soreness.
Good postpartum care is just as important as the care received during pregnancy and birth.