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The key to having a healthy baby is taking good care of your own health. The healthier you are, the stronger you and your baby are likely to be.
We all want to be healthy, but sometimes it is hard to know what we should do. If you are pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, you may have some questions. Here are some of the most commons questions we hear women ask about prenatal care.
Prenatal care is the care you receive from a health care provider, such as a doctor or midwife, during pregnancy. During prenatal care visits, your health care provider will make sure you and the developing fetus are healthy and strong. These regular checkups are your chance to learn how to manage the discomforts of pregnancy, have any testing you may need, learn warning signs, and ask any questions you may have.
It's best to begin before you are pregnant — this is sometimes called pre-pregnancy health or preconception planning. But if that is not possible, begin prenatal care as soon as you know you're pregnant.
The first prenatal care visit is usually the longest. The examination is very thorough. You will be asked questions about your medical history. You will also be asked about your partner's medical history and your family's medical history. You will have a complete physical exam. Your health care provider will measure your height, weight, blood pressure, breathing, and pulse.
Usually, you will be given a gynecological exam that will include
You may be offered blood or skin tests to check for
You may also be given urine tests to check for diabetes or other infections.
Your health care provider may take this opportunity to discuss your lifestyle and habits and to suggest certain changes that may help make the pregnancy healthy. One of the most important things a woman can do is to take folic acid — a B vitamin — every day to prevent serious birth defects.
Diet, Exercise, and Lifestyle Changes During Pregnancy
Many pregnant women have questions about diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes during pregnancy. Prenatal care visits are the perfect time to discuss these concerns with your health care provider.
Many women choose to make lifestyle changes before they become pregnant. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and, if you smoke, drink, or do drugs, quitting those activities, are all important things a woman can do to help have the healthiest pregnancy possible.
If you are 18 to 35 years old and healthy, you will probably have a "low-risk" pregnancy. If so, plan to have prenatal care visits about
If you have a high-risk pregnancy, your health care provider may ask you to come in for prenatal care more often.
Your health care provider will check that your pregnancy is progressing well. During prenatal care visits your provider may
Each visit is also an opportunity to discuss any questions or concerns that have come up since your last visit.
Medication and Pregnancy
Certain medicines are dangerous to take during pregnancy. Discuss with your health care provider which medications and treatments you ought to continue, start, or put on hold during your pregnancy. Check with your provider before taking any medicines.
Your health care provider may offer you certain tests during your pregnancy. These tests are used to make sure that you are healthy and the fetus is doing well. Some tests identify possible birth defects.
The different tests are done at certain times. Your health care provider will let you know what tests you may want or need, and when you will need them.
Some common prenatal tests for birth defects and other abnormalities include
Another common test is the biophysical profile (BPP). It is most commonly given during the third trimester. The BPP uses ultrasound combined with a fetal monitor to observe fetal heartbeat and movement. BPP allows your health care provider to evaluate the well-being of the fetus.
Ultrasound allows a health care provider to take pictures of the embryo or fetus as it develops. An ultrasound scan builds a picture of the embryo or fetus on a screen by bouncing sound waves into your uterus. Ultrasound is also called a sonogram. Depending on when it is done during pregnancy, it may
Ultrasound is a very safe procedure — no x-rays are involved.
Between 11 and 13 weeks of pregnancy, some providers combine a blood test with a special kind of ultrasound. Some providers refer to this as the combined test. It is used to screen for Down syndrome and other genetic birth defects.
There are two ways to do an ultrasound — through the abdomen or through the vagina. Ultrasounds may be performed by your health care provider or by a trained ultrasound technician.
During an abdominal ultrasound, your provider will place the ultrasound wand on your abdomen, using a small amount of gel to help lubricate the area. You may feel pressure during the exam, but it is not painful.
During a vaginal ultrasound, your provider will insert the ultrasound wand into the vagina. This may feel similar to a vaginal exam. You may feel pressure during the exam, but it is not painful.
The multiple marker screening is another type of prenatal testing and is sometimes called the triple or quadruple screen. It is usually performed between weeks 15 and 20. The health care provider will draw some of your blood to screen for Down syndrome, spina bifida, and other birth defects. Your health care provider will offer you other tests if the multiple marker screening reveals an increased risk of birth defects.
Chorionic villus sampling, or CVS, is a kind of prenatal testing that examines the tissue attaching the fetus to the wall of the uterus. CVS is usually performed between 10 and 12 weeks of pregnancy.
You may consider CVS if
CVS can be done in two ways — a thin tube can be inserted through the cervix or a thin needle is inserted through the stomach. Ultrasound is used to guide the needle in both methods.
CVS is generally painless. However, you may feel cramping or have bleeding or spotting after CVS. Symptoms usually stop within a few days. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you have any discomfort or bleeding.
CVS is generally safe. After CVS, there is a slight chance of infection, injury to the fetus, or having early labor.
Amniocentesis is another form of prenatal testing. This test examines amniotic fluid — the fluid that surrounds and protects the fetus. Amniocentesis finds certain birth defects. It is usually done between 15 and 18 weeks of pregnancy.
You may consider amniocentesis if
A health care provider inserts a long, thin needle into the abdomen to take out a small amount of fluid. Your health care provider will use the pictures from the ultrasound to guide the needle.
Amniocentesis is generally painless — many women report having no pain at all, but some women report mild discomfort.
Amniocentesis is also generally safe. However, as with CVS, there is a slight chance of infection, injury to the fetus, or early labor.
There are many changes that occur during pregnancy. Your body will go through a lot of hormonal changes. Your uterus will grow up to 18 times larger than it normally is. Your breasts and nipples will become larger. And you will gain weight.
You may have increased and decreased sexual desire. You may have changes in the texture of your hair and in the amount of body hair you have. And you may experience other discomforts and changes that are new to you. You can discuss these changes at your prenatal care visits.
Common discomforts during pregnancy include
Tips for avoiding nausea and vomiting
Tips for avoiding heartburn
Tips for avoiding constipation
Most pregnancies proceed without any problem. But problems can happen unexpectedly. Contact your health care provider right away if you think you may have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection or if you have any of these warning signs:
Premature Labor — Pregnancy takes about 40 weeks. If contractions cause your cervix to open earlier than normal — between the 20th and 37th week — it's called premature labor. Premature labor can be very dangerous.
The signs of premature labor include
Signs of other dangerous problems include
If you are experiencing any of these signs, contact your health care provider or go to the hospital immediately.
Q&A with Dr. Cullins