Pregnancy is a beautiful yet intricate journey that warrants close medical supervision. Regular doctor’s visits form an integral part of prenatal care, ensuring the well-being of both mother and baby. Here is an in-depth guide to what to expect during your doctor’s visits when pregnant and when to seek immediate care.
Initial Prenatal Visit
Once you have confirmed your pregnancy, it is crucial to schedule your first prenatal visit. This visit typically happens around 6 to 8 weeks into your pregnancy and may be the longest. Your doctor will gather comprehensive health information, confirm the pregnancy, estimate your due date, and assess your health and the health of the developing baby.
Medical and Obstetric History
One of the first things your healthcare provider will do is take your medical and obstetric history. This includes your previous medical conditions, surgeries, medications, family medical history, and details of any past pregnancies. This helps your doctor understand any potential risks or complications for your current pregnancy.
A thorough physical examination is performed, which includes checking your vital signs, heart and lung function, and a pelvic examination. The doctor will also conduct a Pap smear test, screen for sexually transmitted diseases, and estimate the size of your uterus.
At your initial visit, your doctor will order several laboratory tests. These typically include complete blood count, blood type, Rh factor, immunity to certain infections, and tests for hepatitis B, HIV, and syphilis. Urinalysis is also done to check for signs of kidney disease or urinary tract infection.
The highlight of your prenatal visits will often be listening to your baby’s heartbeat. Around 12 weeks, the doctor may use a Doppler device to detect the baby’s heart sounds. This magical moment serves as a confirmation of your baby’s wellbeing.
Once your pregnancy is established and progressing well, your doctor will want to see you approximately every four weeks until about 28 weeks into your pregnancy. During these visits, your healthcare provider will monitor your weight, blood pressure, and the growth of your uterus, and will check the baby’s heartbeat.
An ultrasound scan is typically performed around the 18–22-week mark. This scan helps the doctor see the baby’s anatomy, confirm the due date, identify the placenta’s location, and sometimes reveal the baby’s sex. Sometimes an early ultrasound may be done during your first visit to confirm the pregnancy and check for twins.
Between 24-28 weeks, you will have a glucose screening test to check for gestational diabetes. If the initial screening shows high blood glucose levels, further testing will be done to confirm the diagnosis. Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of certain pregnancy complications, but it can usually be controlled with diet and exercise, and sometimes with medication.
From 28 weeks until 36 weeks, your doctor’s visits will increase to every two weeks. Your healthcare provider will continue to monitor your health and your baby’s development. This includes checking your weight, blood pressure, and the size and position of your baby.
Once you reach the 36th week, your doctor will want to see you every week. Now, the focus is on preparing for birth. The doctor will check the baby’s position and may begin to do cervical checks to determine if your body is preparing for labor.
Group B Streptococcus Test
Around 35-37 weeks, you’ll be tested for Group B Streptococcus (GBS). GBS is a type of bacteria that can live in your body naturally but can cause serious illness in newborns. If you test positive, you’ll receive antibiotics during labor to prevent the baby from getting infected.
Discussion of Labor and Delivery
During the last few weeks of pregnancy, your doctor will discuss signs of labor, when to head to the hospital, and your birth plan. You may also discuss options for pain relief during labor, and what to expect in different scenarios, such as a vaginal birth or cesarian section.
If your pregnancy extends beyond 40 weeks, your doctor will monitor you and your baby more closely. You may have additional tests to check your baby’s well-being and may discuss the option of inducing labor.
When to Seek Immediate Care
While regular doctor’s visits are crucial, some situations require immediate medical attention. These include severe abdominal pain, heavy vaginal bleeding, severe headaches, vision problems, swelling in hands and face, difficulty breathing, decreased fetal movement, or contractions before 37 weeks.
Support and Education
Prenatal visits also provide an opportunity for education and support. You can discuss any concerns or fears you may have, learn about healthy lifestyle choices, understand the changes that your body is undergoing, and learn about what to expect during labor and delivery.
Your doctor may recommend antenatal classes, which can be incredibly helpful, especially for first-time parents. These classes cover a range of topics, from labor and birth to breastfeeding and basic baby care.
Role of the Partner
The partner’s involvement in prenatal visits can provide emotional support to the pregnant woman and help the partner better understand the pregnancy process. Partners can also use these visits to bond with the baby and prepare for their new roles.
Importance of Prenatal Visits
Prenatal visits aim to keep you and your baby healthy throughout the pregnancy. They allow your doctor to detect and manage potential problems early, ensure the baby’s proper growth and development, and prepare you for the birth process.
The Changing Landscape of Prenatal Care
With advancements in telehealth, some aspects of prenatal care can now be conducted remotely. This includes virtual consultations and remote monitoring of the pregnant woman’s blood pressure and weight. However, certain key elements, such as physical examinations and ultrasound scans, still require in-person visits.
Flexibility in Prenatal Care
Every pregnancy is unique. Therefore, your prenatal care plan may not look exactly like the standard schedule. Depending on your health and your baby’s health, your doctor may suggest more frequent visits or additional tests.
Regular doctor’s visits play a critical role in a healthy pregnancy, providing necessary medical supervision, emotional support, and essential education. By understanding what to expect during these visits and when to seek immediate care, you can actively contribute to the well-being of both you and your baby.