What happens during prenatal visits varies depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy.
Schedule your first prenatal visit as soon as you think you are pregnant, even if you have confirmed your pregnancy with a home pregnancy test. Early and regular prenatal visits help your health care provider monitor your health and the growth of the fetus.
The First Visit
Your first prenatal visit will probably be scheduled sometime after your eighth week of pregnancy. Most health care providers won’t schedule a visit any earlier unless you have a medical condition, have had problems with a pregnancy in the past, or have symptoms such as spotting or bleeding, stomach pain, or severe nausea and vomiting.1
Because your first visit will be one of your longest, allow plenty of time.
During the visit, you can expect your health care provider to do the following:2
- Answer your questions. This is a great time to ask questions and share any concerns you may have. Keep a running list for your visit.
- Check your urine sample for infection and to confirm your pregnancy.
- Check your blood pressure, weight, and height.
- Calculate your due date based on your last menstrual cycle and ultrasound exam.
- Ask about your health, including previous conditions, surgeries, or pregnancies.
- Ask about your family health and genetic history.
- Ask about your lifestyle, including whether you smoke, drink, or take drugs, and whether you exercise regularly.
- Ask about your stress level.
- Perform prenatal blood tests: (1) to determine your blood type and Rh (Rhesus) factor. Rh factor refers to a protein found on red blood cells. If the mother is Rh negative (lacks the protein) and the father is Rh positive (has the protein), the pregnancy requires a special level of care.3 (2) to do a blood count—hemoglobin, hematocrit (3) to test for hepatitis B, HIV, rubella, and syphilis.
- Do a complete physical exam, including a pelvic exam, gonorrhea and chlamydia cultures, and Pap test to screen for cervical cancer.
- Do an ultrasound test, depending on the week of pregnancy.
- Offer genetic testing: screening for Down syndrome and other chromosomal problems, cystic fibrosis, other specialized testing depending on history.
Prenatal Visit Schedule
If your pregnancy is healthy, your health care provider will set up a regular schedule for visits that will probably look about like this:2
|Before 28 weeks:
|Weeks 28 to 36:
||Every 2 weeks|
|Week 36 to birth:
Later Prenatal Visits
As your pregnancy progresses, your prenatal visits will vary greatly. During most visits, you can expect your health care provider to do the following:
- Check your blood pressure.
- Measure your weight gain.
- Measure your abdomen to check your developing infant's growth—"fundal height" (once you begin to "show").
- Check the fetal heart rate.
- Check your hands and feet for swelling.
- Feel your abdomen to find the fetus's position (later in pregnancy).
- Do tests, such as blood tests or an ultrasound exam.
- Talk to you about your questions or concerns. It's a good idea to write down your questions and bring them with you.
Several of these visits will include special tests to check for gestational diabetes (between 24 and 28 weeks)4 and other conditions, depending on your age and family history.
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics released new vaccine guidelines for 2013, including a recommendation for pregnant women to receive a booster of whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine. The guidelines recommend the shot be given between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy.5
- American Pregnancy Association. (2011, March). Your first prenatal visit. Retrieved April 12, 2012, from http://www.americanpregnancy.org/planningandpreparing/firstprenatal.htm [top]
- Womenshealth.gov. (2010, September 27). Pregnancy: Prenatal care and tests. Retrieved May 22, 2012, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/you-are-pregnant/prenatal-care-tests.cfm [top]
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011, August). Frequently asked questions. FAQ027. Pregnancy. The Rh factor: How it can affect your pregnancy. Retrieved May 21, 2012, from http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq027.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120612T2325317701 (PDF – 331 KB) [top]
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011, August). Frequently asked questions. FAQ133. Pregnancy: Routine tests in pregnancy. Retrieved June 12, 2012, from http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq133.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120612T2343414674 (PDF – 218 KB) [top]
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013 February 22). Updated recommendations for use of tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis vaccine (TDAP) in pregnant women―Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2012. Retrieved September 20, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6207a4.htm [top]