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What is the purpose of prenatal & pregnancy care?

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Getting early and regular prenatal care is one of the best ways for a woman to promote a healthy pregnancy. OB/GYNs and other qualified health care providers offer prenatal care that often includes education and counseling about how to handle different aspects of pregnancy, such as nutrition and physical activity, what to expect during labor and delivery, and basic infant care.

During pregnancy, routine prenatal checkups occur at regular intervals. Their frequency typically varies depending on the stage of the pregnancy1:

  • Once each month from week 4 to week 28
  • Twice a month from week 28 to week 36
  • Weekly from week 36 to birth

Promoting a Healthy Pregnancy

Obstetrical care plays an important role throughout pregnancy. Routine tests are conducted during pregnancy to check for and help guide treatment of potential problems and include2:

  • Blood tests. By performing a blood test, a health care provider can check for blood type and antibody screening, hematocrit and hemoglobin levels, rubella infection (German measles), hepatitis B virus, syphilis, HIV, glucose levels (sugar in the blood to test for diabetes), and the possibility that a woman is a cystic fibrosis carrier.
  • Urine testing. Each prenatal visit might include a urine test to check the levels of sugar and protein in the urine; high levels can be a sign of diabetes. Protein levels can also signal a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a kidney disease. Later in pregnancy, protein in the urine can be a sign of preeclampsia.
  • Screening tests for birth defects. During the first two trimesters, a health care provider may order screening tests to check for an abnormal number of chromosomes (or aneuploidy) or other genetic abnormalities, which can indicate Down syndrome (first trimester), neural tube defects (NTDs) (second trimester), and other conditions.
  • Further diagnostic testing. If screening results show that there is an increased risk of the infant being born with a birth defect, the health care provider may order further testing.

High-Risk Pregnancy

All pregnancies involve some risk to both the mother and her fetus. Women with high-risk pregnancies due to certain factors present before pregnancy may need care from specialists. For example, being overweight or having pre-existing health conditions can place the mother and infant at higher risk for problems during the pregnancy.

Risk factors that may cause a high-risk pregnancy include:

  • Young or old maternal age
  • Being overweight or underweight
  • Problems in previous pregnancies
  • Pre-existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS.

Prenatal care also allows health care providers to manage problems that may develop in a woman who was previously healthy, such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia/eclampsia.

  1. Office on Women’s Health. (2010). Pregnancy: Prenatal care and tests. Retrieved June 14, 2012, from [top]
  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011). Routine tests in pregnancy. Frequently asked questions. Retrieved June 13, 2012, from External Web Site Policy (PDF - 218 KB) [top]

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