What’s With All the Prenatal Appointments? Here’s What You Need to Know

You made it through the nail biting moments of waiting for pregnancy test results and are already daydreaming about turning your guest bedroom into the perfect nursery. While nine months of long naps, snack fests and a new wardrobe are all calling your name, we understand that this incredibly exciting time in your life may also be surfacing feelings of stress and anxiety. We’ve been there and we’re here to help you every step of the way!

Participating in prenatal care is one of the best decisions you can make for both you and your baby. Prenatal care prepares you for each phase of your pregnancy and gives your baby better odds of being born healthy. Mothers who partake in prenatal care are also better equipped in terms of what to expect during labor and delivery. These visits are additionally beneficial in the sense that they offer an opportunity to educate mothers while allowing plenty of room for questions and concerns.

The First Trimester (0-13 weeks)

Heads up mamas — your first prenatal appointment is likely to be your longest. Don’t fret, this will be one of the most exciting and informative doctor visits you’ll ever experience in your life. You’ll likely have this appointment when you’re roughly 8 to 10 weeks along in your first trimester. The first visit revolves largely around your medical background. You’ll be providing your doctor, nurse or midwife your entire medical history to determine how healthy you currently are as well as predict any type of complications you may experience during your pregnancy.

Wait for it… wait for it…you’ll also find out your expected due date! Yay!

The first visit will also include a thorough physical exam. It’ll cover the familiar basics like getting blood work done, being weighed, taking your blood pressure and so on. The healthcare provider will also likely conduct pelvic and breast exams, a pap smear and a urine screening to look at protein and sugar levels. If you’ve been bleeding, having pain or had recent fertility treatments, the healthcare provider will likely take an ultrasound to help put your mind and body at ease.

The second prenatal appointment is typically scheduled a month after the initial appointment. If you are experiencing any issues or want to get certain time-sensitive prenatal tests taken, your appointment should be made sooner. This time, in addition to being weighed, having your blood pressure taken and doing a urine screening, you’ll have the opportunity to listen to your baby’s heartbeat. Your baby’s heartbeat can be heard through the use of a Doppler, when 8 to 12 weeks along. It utilizes ultrasound technology to bounce sound waves off of your baby and is safe and painless for you both. If you have issues hearing baby’s heartbeat, be patient, the healthcare provider will do it the following visit once your little one has grown a bit.

The second visit offers the opportunity to conduct a variety of optional tests. Only in certain circumstances will a doctor actually request them.

Chorionic villus sampling (CVS). A small tissue sample is taken from the placenta (via the cervix or abdominal wall) to test for congenital abnormalities. This test can determine if a child will have a chromosomal condition like Down Syndrome or another genetic condition like cystic fibrosis.

Nuchal fold test.  The nuchal fold test uses a special ultrasound to measure the thickness of tissue behind a fetus’ neck (this area is called the nuchal fold). This test determines a baby’s risk of having Down Syndrome, other types of chromosomal abnormalities, as well as any major congenital heart conditions.

Early amniocentesis. An ultrasound helps guide a needle into the amniotic sac in order for fluid to be removed safely. This test takes about 45 minutes in its entirety and is able to detect neural tube defects like spina bifida, genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis and chromosome abnormalities like Down Syndrome.

Second Trimester (14 weeks- 27 weeks)

Appointments are usually once every four weeks except if you have a condition or are having concerns that require checkups on a more frequent basis.

By the time you reach your third prenatal appointment, you’ll be around 14 to16 weeks along. The riskiest part of your pregnancy will have passed (phew!) and you’ll just be feeling better overall. This time, they’ll do the usual blood pressure check, urine screening, weigh-in and opportunity to listen to your little one’s heartbeat again. In addition, the third appointment will check the growth of your baby by measuring your abdomen — this is called the “fundal height.”

This visit should allow you the opportunity to conduct additional tests if requested. These include Amniocentesis and a Neural tube defect (NTD)/Down Syndrome Screening.

Fourth Prenatal Care Appointment. You’re roughly around the 16-20 week point. You might be able to feel your little one move. This visit will include all the same medical elements of the last appointment.

Fifth Prenatal Care Appointment. Occurs around the 18-22 week mark. They’ll give you a routine checkup like usual, but this time they’ll also be checking your hands and feet for swelling.

Sixth Prenatal Care Appointment. You’ll be about 22-26 weeks pregnant.  Vitals will be taken in addition to the routine tests from previous appointments. This is a good time to discuss your baby’s movement and ask any questions you may have regarding the matter.

Seventh Prenatal Care Appointment. During this visit you are around 26-28 weeks pregnant. Same medical routine as the last visit!

At or around this appointment you may be given the opportunity to test for gestational diabetes via a glucose tolerance test (GTT). A doctor or midwife can provide you information on self screening for preterm labor.

Third Trimester (28 weeks through the end of your pregnancy)

The Eighth Appointment and Beyond

Lets just say life’s about to get busy!

28-36 weeks. This time period means going to at least one appointment every other week! These sessions will likely involve a medical professional palpating (using hands to feel your belly) in order to keep an eye on your baby’s position.

36-40 Weeks. You’ll likely be seen on a weekly basis until around the 41st week of your pregnancy (by then you’ll be examined every couple days until your little one is ready to say hello). An ultrasound at this stage will help evaluate the position of your baby.

40-41 Weeks. This means you are past your due date. Your doctor or midwife will keep a close eye on you and your baby until you go into labor. At this stage medical professionals will determine whether or not an induction of labor may be necessary.

This critical stage within your pregnancy allows for two possible voluntary tests:

Non-stress test. Measures the heart rate of your baby in response to the movements he/she makes. It determines whether or not your little one is receiving enough oxygen due to placenta or umbilical cord related complications.

Bio-physical profile (BPP). Combines a non-stress test with an ultrasound evaluation in order to determine fetal health. Five critical fetal characteristics are evaluated and “scored” during a BPP: breathing, movement, muscle tone, heart rate and amniotic fluid.

Deep Breath, mamas!

When you find out the big news, it becomes more critical than ever to remain healthy.  Your little one is depending on you to make the best decisions for you both. Early and routine prenatal care is a great way to ensure your little one will get the best possible start the moment they greet the world. So grab your calendar and some glitter pens, the next nine months are about to become one of the busiest, most thrilling times of your life!

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