Pregnancy and prenatal care go hand in hand. During the first trimester, prenatal care includes blood tests, a physical exam, conversations about lifestyle and more.
Prenatal care is an important part of a healthy pregnancy. Whether you choose a family physician, obstetrician or nurse-midwife, prenatal care is the key to monitoring your health — and your baby’s health — throughout your pregnancy. Here’s what to expect at the first few prenatal appointments.
Prenatal care: The first visit
As soon as you think you’re pregnant, schedule your first prenatal appointment. Set aside ample time for the visit. You and your health care provider have plenty to discuss! You might want to include your partner in the appointment as well.
Here are the basics:
- Medical history. Your health care provider will ask many questions — including details about your menstrual cycle, use of contraceptives, past pregnancies, and allergies or other medical conditions. Bring a list of any prescription or over-the-counter medications you’re taking. Share any family history of congenital abnormalities or genetic diseases.
Be sure to mention even sensitive issues, such as abortion or past drug use. Remember, the information you share will help your health care provider take the best care of you — and your baby. If there’s any part of your medical history that you don’t want to share with your partner or other loved ones, mention it to your health care provider privately.
- Due date. Establishing your due date early in pregnancy allows your health care provider to monitor your baby’s growth as accurately as possible. To estimate your due date, your health care provider will count ahead 40 weeks from the start of your last period. If there’s any question about your due date, your health care provider may use an early ultrasound to help confirm the date.
- Physical exam. Your health care provider will check your weight, height and blood pressure. He or she will listen to your heart and assess your overall health.
- Pelvic exam. Your health care provider will examine your vagina and the opening to your uterus (cervix) for any infections or abnormalities. You may need a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer. Changes in the cervix and in the size of your uterus can help confirm the stage of your pregnancy.
- Blood tests. Your health care provider will do blood tests to determine your blood type, including Rh factor — a specific protein on the surface of red blood cells. Blood tests also can reveal whether you’ve been exposed to syphilis, measles, mumps, rubella or hepatitis B. You may be offered a test for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Tests for chickenpox and toxoplasmosis immunity may sometimes be done as well.
- Urine tests. Analysis of your urine can reveal a bladder or kidney infection. The presence of too much sugar or protein in your urine may suggest diabetes or kidney disease.
- Lifestyle issues. Your health care provider will discuss the importance of nutrition, prenatal vitamins, exercise and other lifestyle issues. You’ll also discuss your work environment. If you smoke, ask your health care provider for suggestions to help you quit.
- Screening tests for fetal abnormalities. Prenatal tests can give you valuable information about your baby’s health. Your health care provider may recommend ultrasound, blood tests or other screening tests to detect fetal abnormalities.
Prenatal care: Other first-trimester visits
Subsequent prenatal visits — often scheduled every four to six weeks during the first trimester — will probably be shorter than the first. Your health care provider will check your weight and blood pressure, and you’ll discuss your signs and symptoms. You probably won’t need another pelvic exam until later in your pregnancy. Near the end of the first trimester, you may be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat with a small device that bounces sound waves off your baby’s heart.
Remember, your health care provider is there to support you throughout your pregnancy. Your prenatal appointments are an ideal time to discuss any questions or concerns — including things that may be uncomfortable or embarrassing. Also find out how to reach your health care provider between appointments. Knowing help is available when you need it can offer precious peace of mind.