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Prenatal Medical Care

The importance of early prenatal medical care

As soon as a woman discovers she is pregnant, she should work with her healthcare provider to set up a schedule of prenatal care. For normal pregnancies without major complications, prenatal exams are often scheduled as follows:

Picture of measurements being taken at a prenatal visit

  • Every month from the 4th week through the 28th week

  • Every 2 weeks from the 29th week through the 36th week

  • Weekly from the 37th week until delivery

This schedule may vary depending on your health and your healthcare provider's preference. You may need more prenatal care if you have a preexisting health problem, like diabetes, or if complications come up during your pregnancy.

Who provides prenatal care?

Many healthcare providers can provide prenatal care, such as:

  • Obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN). This healthcare provider has special training in the care of women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. An OB/GYN also focuses on many gynecological health issues.

  • Family physician (FP). This healthcare provider has special training in primary care, including obstetrics.

  • Nurse practitioner. This type of nurse has special training and can provide women's healthcare. Nurse practitioners are certified by either the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners or the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

  • Certified nurse midwife (CNM). This type of nurse has additional training to care for women with low-risk pregnancies. Some midwives work with other healthcare providers while some work on an independent basis. CNMs are certified by the American College of Nurse Midwives.

  • Perinatologist. This healthcare provider specializes in care of women with high-risk pregnancies. Perinatologists are also called maternal-fetal specialists.

Obstetricians (and other healthcare providers who specialize in maternal-fetal medicine, reproductive endocrinology, or infertility) are certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Almost 2,000 obstetricians are certified every year.

What happens during the prenatal care visits?

Prenatal care provides the best care for you and your unborn child. It also helps prepare you for the delivery of a healthy baby. During prenatal visits, you and your baby will have tests to check for any potential risks and to treat any complications. Tests will also be done to keep an eye on the growth and development of the baby. You will also get counseling and guidance on many aspects of pregnancy, such as weight gain, exercise, nutrition, and overall health. At a typical prenatal visit, you may have any or all of these:

  • Weight measurement

  • Blood pressure test

  • Measurement of the uterus to check for proper growth of the fetus

  • Physical exam to find problems or discomforts, like swelling of the hands and feet

  • Urine test to check sugar and protein levels. High levels can be a sign of diabetes or preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition that causes high blood pressure, high protein levels, and swelling due to fluid retention. But swelling may not always be present. And having swelling does not always mean a woman has preeclampsia.

  • Fetal heart rate measurement

  • Prenatal screening tests like blood tests to check for anemia

Online Medical Reviewer: Daniel N Sacks MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Heather Trevino
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2020
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