Prenatal Care

The prenatal period is a time when a mother can prepare herself both physically and mentally for pregnancy. Many women feel that their emotions are heightened during pregnancy and they often feel anxious, excited and nervous. Prenatal care helps to educate mothers on what is best for their baby. A prenatal appointment with a midwife or doctor will give you more information on pregnancy, and doctors will be on hand to offer prenatal care from the time of conception up until the onset of labour.

The Aims of Prenatal Care

Prenatal care aims to detect any potential problems that a woman may face so that they can be prevented at the earliest possible time. The doctor will give the patient information on following a healthy balanced diet, exercise and vitamin intake and will be able to identify potential risk factors such as smoking or excessive alcohol intake. Prenatal care is used to identify these risk factors in order for a pregnant mother or a woman trying to conceive can identify what changes they need to make to their lifestyle. Hospital consultations may be arranged by the doctor in cases of excessive alcohol intake or smoking, where further assistance may be required.

What are the benefits of prenatal care?

Prenatal care has considerable health benefits for a woman trying to conceive or a woman who is already pregnant. One of the many benefits of prenatal care is that women are introduced to taking vitamins such as folic acid which aids in protecting against spina bifida, a neural tube deficiency. Many women attending prenatal care are given the opportunity to ask questions and nullify any misconceptions about pregnancy that they may have.

What does physical prenatal care consist of?

The physical examination part of prenatal care normally consists of the following:

  • An analysis of the mother’s medical history to establish any potential problems
  • Monitoring of blood pressure
  • Checking the height and weight of the mother
  • Pelvic examination
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Discussion with the mother regarding the pregnancy

When are prenatal appointments arranged?

Prenatal care appointments are arranged before conception and after becoming pregnant. A pregnant woman will normally have their prenatal appointments on a monthly basis during the first two trimesters of their pregnancy. Once a pregnant mother has reached 28 weeks they may only have prenatal appointments every fortnight. In the last trimester, prenatal appointments are increased to once every week.

When can I hear my baby’s first heartbeat?

When a pregnant mother is 8-12 weeks into her pregnancy she may be able to hear her baby’s heartbeat for the very first time. The midwife will use a Doppler machine to listen to the fetal heartbeat. This prenatal appointment is often an exciting time for many expectant mothers, who anxiously wait to hear the heartbeat of their baby.

Choosing a prenatal care doctor or midwife

Many women are given the opportunity to see specialised health care staff, especially if they are considered to be having a high risk pregnancy. On your booking visit you may be assessed on whether your pregnancy is low risk or high risk and your doctor may advise you on who would be best able to handle your pregnancy care. There are many types of prenatal care providers, such as perinatologists who specialise in high risk pregnancies.

Other types of prenatal care providers include:

Obstetrician – An obstetrician specialises in pregnancy and birth, and most commonly work in hospital settings. You may be able to see an obstetrician for one of your prenatal appointments especially if you suffer from health problems such as asthma or diabetes.

Nurse Midwife – This type of midwife is specialised in handling low risk pregnancies and birth, and they often work in a doctor’s surgery or hospital environment.

What questions should I be asking my doctor or midwife?

Many expectant mothers have a list of questions which they want to cover at their prenatal visit and doctors are always happy to clarify these questions. If you have been considering a home birth then you may want to ask about home birthing pools. There are many questions you could ask depending on the type of birth you are having and where you want to have your baby. Some popular questions to ask are as follows:

  • What books do you recommend reading on pregnancy?
  • What foods should I be eating and what should I avoid?
  • What birthing pool facilities are available in my local area?
  • Would I be able to have a home birth?
  • How long is labour?
  • How do I know when I am going into labour?
  • How long are contractions?

You may have your own set of questions that you want to ask regarding pregnancy and birth and it is always best to keep them written down so that you can address them when meeting your doctor at a later stage.

When to call my doctor or midwife

If you are pregnant and experience any of the following symptoms then you may need to call your doctor or midwife immediately or go to your local hospital:

  • Bleeding – If you experience any bleeding during your pregnancy then you should make sure that you report this to your doctor. If you are bleeding excessively then you should go to the hospital straight away to investigate it further.
  • Water’s broke – If you feel that your waters have broken then you have to call your midwife straight away as this is one of the first signs of labour.
  • Pain –If you are experiencing severe abdominal pain it is best to call your doctor immediately or alternatively go to the hospital.
  • You cannot feel your baby moving – If you cannot feel your baby moving or you notice a change in the pattern of movements then you should report this to your midwife
  • Swelling – Many pregnant women suffer from swelling on their body; however, if the swelling does not decrease then you may need to tell your midwife.
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