Prenatal Care Guide: Importance, Tips, and What to Expect During Pregnancy

Welcome to the wild ride of pregnancy, where your body is no longer just yours and every day brings a new adventure! There is nothing quite as exciting as growing a human being in your own body, but as amazing as it is, pregnancy isn’t always a walk in the park. You may experience bizarre food cravings, increased anxiety, sudden mood swings, restless nights and have to pee every five minutes. The good news: you’re not alone in this journey. There’s a whole community of moms-to-be out there, and this article will help you navigate the ups and downs of pregnancy so you can enjoy a healthy, happy and stress-free nine months.

prenatal care guide

What is Prenatal Care?

Prenatal care is the health care you receive when you’re pregnant to support a healthy pregnancy. Throughout your pregnancy, your healthcare provider, whether it be a doctor, nurse, or midwife, will closely monitor your baby’s development and provide regular testing to identify and prevent any potential issues. Your doctor will measure your belly from the sternum to the top of your pubic bone during your prenatal appointments to monitor your baby’s growth and ultrasounds will also be used to confirm your baby’s gender and development at specific times.

You’ll also undergo regular tests, such as blood work to check for anemia, your blood type, and other factors. Other tests may also be offered or required based on your age, personal or family health history, your ethnic background, or the results received from the routine tests you have had.

These monthly checkups also provide an opportunity for you to discuss any discomfort or concerns you may have, and for your healthcare provider to offer advice and guidance on how to manage them effectively. You can also use these appointments to ask any questions you have about your pregnancy and the upcoming birth of your baby.

What are Prenatal Care Appointments Like?

Prenatal appointments typically happen once a month from the start of your pregnancy up until 28 weeks (7 months). At this time, the doctor will start seeing you two times a month until 36 weeks (9 months) and once a week for the final four weeks of your pregnancy.

Your first prenatal visit tends to be the longest, as your doctor will ask about your health history and family health history, perform a physical exam, take blood and urine samples, calculate your due date, and discuss key information regarding your pregnancy. This appointment is an excellent time to bring up any questions or concerns you may have.

The following prenatal visits will likely be shorter, with a focus on checking your health and monitoring the baby’s growth. A quick check of your blood pressure, weight gain and measurement of your abdomen and you’ll be on your way.  Later on in the pregnancy, your doctor may also start checking the baby’s heart rate.

Importance of Prenatal Care

Prioritizing prenatal care is imperative for the health of both you and your baby. Not only is it essential for early detection and treatment of any potential health problems, it can also give you all of the peace of mind you need for a stress-free pregnancy. For example, studies found that babies are less likely to have a low birth weight when the mom received regular prenatal care. The infant mortality rate is also significantly lower with prenatal care.

Additionally, your healthcare provider can offer you guidance and support on how to promote a healthy pregnancy and give your baby the best possible start in life.

Here’s a quick recap of some of the top benefits that come with prenatal care:

  • Reduced risk of pregnancy complications: Regular check-ups can help eliminate any problems that could put you or your pregnancy at risk, such as preeclampsia, gestational hypertension and gestational diabetes.
  • Receive important information about labor and delivery: Regular prenatal checkups provide you with essential information needed so you can make the best decision for you and the baby when it comes to the type of delivery you wish to have.
  • Reduced risk of birth defects: Prenatal care makes it easy to keep a track of rate of the baby’s development and can help reduce risk of fetal and infant diseases. 
  • Protect your own health: The healthier you are, the better it is for the baby, and prenatal care can help you keep yourself healthy.
  • Receive important tests: Prenatal tests assess risks to the mother, such as miscarriage or maternal death, and check for fetal abnormalities, which allows for early detection, proper management and better outcomes for you and the baby.
  • Get proper nutritional advice: To meet your baby’s nutritional needs, you may need to make dietary changes. Your doctor will provide specific recommendations during your prenatal appointments, including foods to avoid.
  • Track your baby’s development: Not only is tracking your baby’s development an exciting part of the journey, but it can also provide you with valuable information about how the baby is doing.

Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy

By making prenatal care a priority, you’re taking an important step towards ensuring a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. While you are likely already aware of some basic pregnancy advice, such as avoiding smoking and alcohol and avoiding extreme workouts, there are some extra tips that can help to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.

Take a Prenatal with Folic Acid

Taking prenatal vitamins as soon as you discover you’re pregnant is imperative to ensure a healthy development and environment for the baby. Experts even suggest beginning them when trying to conceive.

Stay Active With Light Exercise

Being active is essential for your overall well-being during pregnancy, as regular exercise can help alleviate stress, improve blood flow, elevate your mood and promote better sleep. Pilates, yoga, swimming, and daily walks are excellent activities for pregnant women. But remember to listen to your body and avoid overdoing it.

Take a Pregnancy Class

Attending a childbirth or pregnancy class is beneficial, as it will provide you with valuable information that can help you feel more confident and prepared for the birth of your new bundle of joy.

Know When To Call The Doctor

During pregnancy, you’ll have all kinds of questions, concerns and anxieties. Things that you never paid attention to before will suddenly send you into a spiral of possible worst-case scenarios, which isn’t good for you or the baby. While it’s important to stay on top of any symptoms you’re experiencing, it’s equally as important to avoid unnecessary stress over normal changes in the body.

As a general rule of thumb, if you experience pain, strong cramps, contractions at 20-minute intervals, vaginal bleeding, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, constant nausea and vomiting, trouble walking, edema, or decreased activity by the baby, you should contact the doctor. And if you aren’t sure, booking an appointment with your doctor is always the best course of action. 

Check Your Medications

Speak with your doctor about any medications you are currently on or before taking any over-the-counter (OTC) medications, supplements, or “natural” remedies. Even seemingly harmless OTC non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen are not recommended during pregnancy. Your doctor can also help you find pregnancy-friendly alternatives.

Avoid Extreme Heat

Hot tubs and saunas may be tempting, especially when battling swollen ankles and aches and pains that come in the last trimester, it’s important to avoid these as they can cause overheating.

Stay Hydrated

When you’re pregnant, your blood volume increases up to 50% to accommodate the increased oxygen and nutrient supply going to the baby through the placenta. Drinking water will help support this function while also helping with pregnancy symptoms like constipation, UTIs, swelling, fatigue, and headaches.

Enjoy More Folate-Rich Foods

To support the healthy development of your baby’s neural tube and to create new red blood cells, you’ll want to consume plenty of folate-rich foods such as fortified cereals, lentils, asparagus, oranges, wheat germ, and orange juice.

Prioritize Your Rest

Your body is working in overdrive to create and maintain a healthy environment for your little one to grow. Getting enough rest is crucial, so make sure you aim for at least eight hours of sleep each night. If you’re experiencing trouble sleeping, try to squeeze in some naps during the day.

Prenatal care is essential for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Regular check-ups, tests, and screenings will ensure that any potential issues are caught early on and can be addressed promptly to ensure a healthy, stress-free pregnancy for you and the baby. Don’t forget to ask any questions or concerns you may have with your healthcare provider, and to be kind to yourself. You’re growing a human being in your body and it takes a lot of work. Be kind to yourself.

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