Prenatal care or antenatal care is the support pregnant women get for a healthy baby. This scenario includes check-ups and prenatal testing to ensure you follow all the essential steps for a hale and hearty baby. These tests help your healthcare provider spot any irregularities in your pregnancy early to prevent them.
So, let us look at what precisely prenatal care is during pregnancy, why it is important and what happens across this period.
What is prenatal care?
Prenatal care is when you get regular check-ups from your doctor, midwife services, health care specialist or nurse throughout your pregnancy to make sure that you and your baby are well across this parental journey.
What is the difference between pregnancy and prenatal care?
Pregnancy means the entire process, from fertilization of the egg to your baby’s birthing. It is the term used to describe the period where the fetus develops inside the woman’s womb. Pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks or over nine months, measured from the last period to final delivery of the baby.
On the other hand, prenatal tests are the regular check-ups that most pregnant women need to go for to ensure that both they and the fetus go through a healthy pregnancy. At these prenatal care check-ups, the doctors, health care providers or midwife services will tell you what stage your pregnancy is in, what foods you should eat, what to avoid, and what medications to take.
These medical professionals will also help you plan your complete birthing process to make the medical care procedure easier for you when your baby is born.
Why do I need prenatal care?
When pregnant, you need to get regular prenatal check-ups done to ensure that your baby is developing correctly and that you are healthy. Babies whose mothers do not get prenatal care are likelier to have low birth weight and are 5 times more likely to die than those whose mothers get enough care.
Early treatment can help prevent health issues and cure problems that may arise during pregnancy. When expecting women visit the doctors regularly for checkups, they can check for health problems that allow them to treat them early. These prenatal care checkups or antenatal care visits also help women understand what to do to care for themselves and their babies during gestation.
What are the benefits of prenatal care?
Before you start looking for prenatal care, here are five essential benefits that all women must know:
1. Reducing risks of pregnancy complications: Prenatal care helps reduce the risk of birth defects to ensure a healthy pregnancy is safe for both the baby and the mother.
2. Analyzing overall baby growth: Regular prenatal care checkups help explore and track the baby’s health at every stage of your pregnancy, such as how much weight your baby measures at each trimester.
3. Personal health progress: Prenatal checks are also about women’s health. Your body undergoes multiple changes and needs special attention in the form of vitamins, folic acid and minerals. Eating a variety of healthy foods will help you get the nutrients your baby needs. But ask your doctor if you need to take a daily prenatal vitamin or iron supplement to be sure you are getting enough.
4. Nutrition care: Other than lifestyle changes, prenatal care also helps take care of nutritional needs for women during pregnancy. Your doctor, health care provider or family physician will tell you certain products you can eat and some that you cannot.
5. Regular testing options: Regular prenatal care helps take care of all necessary testing for the women during pregnancy. These include scans to check the fetus and the position and growth of the baby.
When should I start going for prenatal care?
Women can start their prenatal care appointments as soon as they are pregnant. This scenario is known as preconception planning or pre-pregnancy care. It is good to see your doctor or health care provider before you get pregnant to check preconception health, such as when to stop drinking alcohol and smoking. But if you did not think you were pregnant, begin prenatal visits as soon as possible.
How often you get prenatal care will depend on how far along you actually are as well as how high-risk your pregnancy is. The prenatal appointments scheduled for women who are in the 18-35 age bracket and in good health are:
- Every 4-6 weeks for the first 32 weeks
- Every 2-3 weeks from 32-37th weeks
- Every week from the 37th week until delivery
If you have a high-risk pregnancy (over 35 years, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.), your doctor will ask you to come in for more check-ups due to the risk factors involved.
What happens during prenatal care?
In the first prenatal care checkup, your doctor will:
- Ask yourself about your health history, including first pregnancy, diseases, RH factor, operations, and related medical information – such as alcohol or drug abuse
- Your family health history
- A complete physical exam that includes pelvic exams, blood tests, pap smears, urine samples, etc
- Check your blood pressure, weight, and height
- Calculating your due date
- Answer any queries you may have
Discover all the details you need to know about staying healthy during your pregnancy on the first visit. During the first prenatal care checkup, your medical practitioner asks any questions about your pregnancy.
Also, the health care provider will ask you details such as if you smoke, drink alcohol, and do drugs to help you and your fetus grow properly. You will also be recommended by your doctor certain food items along with medicines such as folic acid. Another thing is that most women in their late 30s and early 40s have healthy babies.
Near the end of the first trimester – by about 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy – you might be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat with a small device, called a Doppler, that bounces sound waves off your baby’s heart.
Your later prenatal care visits will be shorter. The doctor will check that your baby is growing according to the markers and that you are healthy.
Most later prenatal visits include:
- Checking your blood pressure, sugar levels and blood tests
- Measuring and weight gain
- Measuring your baby’s growth once you begin showing
- Checking your baby’s heartbeat
- A physical examination and pelvic exam.
- Start you on essential vitamins, minerals, herbal supplements, and folic acid
During your pregnancy, you will also need to have routine tests. These tests include:
- Blood work to check amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling (CVS), fetal monitoring, glucose testing, and Group B strep culture, etc…
- Tests based on age, personal and family history, ethnic background, or results of other routine tests
How does a lack of prenatal care harm a baby?
Prenatal care is essential and vital for a healthy pregnancy outcome for both the mother and baby. Compared to children born to mothers who got prenatal care, the child whose mothers did not get it is three times more likely to have a lower weight when held.
As per the World Health Organization, a weight loss of 5.5 pounds means the child is 5 times more likely to die in infancy. Low-weight and pre-term delivery babies have additional complications that include the risk of SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome. Also, many women who do not receive prenatal care are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications.
What is the most critical and significant stage of prenatal development?
The most crucial stage of prenatal development is the embryonic period. This scenario is because, at this stage, the fetus develops internal and external structures and specific organs such as the nervous and cardiovascular systems.
What else should I know about prenatal care?
Some aspects of prenatal care that pregnant women should know are:
- If you think you are pregnant, then go to the doctor early and regularly
- Start taking folic acid every day to reduce congenital disabilities
- If you have any medical conditions, then try to get them under control
- Make sure you have the correct vaccinations against certain infections, such as flu shot, hepatitis B vaccines
- Stop smoking, drinking alcohol or using drugs
FAQs on Right Prenatal Care
1) What are the diverse types and categories of prenatal care?
There are three major components to prenatal care: risk assessment, education and health promotion, and therapeutic intervention. With the proper prenatal care, you can lead to the timely discovery and treatment of maternal and fetal issues and even prevent them altogether.
2) What can cause prenatal damage?
Smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs can cause prenatal damage to your fetus. Also, certain diseases like obesity and uncontrolled diabetes can affect the child.
3) What if there is NO prenatal care until 20 weeks?
Mothers who do not seek prenatal care for the baby are three times more likely to have underweight children and five times more likely to birth stillborn babies than mothers who get prenatal care.
4) What are the essential prenatal visits?
The essential of first prenatal visit to your local health care provider for your babies healthy are:
- First 32 weeks – Every 4 to 6 weeks
- 32nd – 37th weeks – Every 2 to 3 weeks
- 37th week – delivery – Every week
It helps keep you and your future baby healthy. It lets your health care provider spot health problems early. Early treatment can cure many problems and prevent others.
5) Which trimester of prenatal is most important?
Prenatal care is most vital in the first trimester because it is during this period when the baby forms its nervous system, grows organs, and even develops teeth.
6) What happens if I do not take prenatal vitamins every day?
Not taking prenatal vitamins every day can lead to deficiencies in folic acid, low birth weight, premature birth, neural tube defects, and poor health conditions for the mother.
7) What is most important in prenatal care?
The most crucial aspect of prenatal care is reducing the risk of pregnancy complications. This scenario includes avoiding exposure to harmful substances like lead and following a safe diet recommended by a health care provider. To avoid this crucial part then choose a prenatal care provider who can help you while you’re pregnant.
8) How to take care of myself and my unborn baby?
If you are pregnant, the best way to take care of your on-self and your unborn baby is to go for regular prenatal visits. Your medical practitioner or health care specialist will check you both and tell you the best medicines, food, and exercise to help keep both happy and thriving.
Getting prenatal care is one of the best ways to care for yourself and your baby. Whether you are a pregnant woman, planning your pregnancy or want to get pregnant soon, learn about everything by connecting with your medical advisor.
Moving forward, please remember to ask any questions, queries, or fears to your local health department doctor to help give your child the best nutrition and better growth.
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