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 pregnancy.

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.

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