Prenatal care is defined as the health care you receive while you are pregnant. The benefits of prenatal care are numerous, both for the woman and the unborn baby. The U.S. Office on Women’s Health recommends getting both early and regular prenatal care.
If you know you’re pregnant, or suspect you might be, it’s important to contact your health care provider to schedule a visit. Consider the type of care you’d like to receive during your pregnancy; will you work with an OB/Gyn? A midwife? Research the options in your area that most align with your needs. Depending on your situation and health history, you may go in for a confirmation pregnancy test. Your doctor may also perform an ultrasound to give a more accurate due date.
Pregnancy is discussed in terms of months and trimesters. The first trimester is months 0-3, or weeks 0-17. The second trimester is months 4-6, or weeks 18-30. The third trimester is months 7-9, or weeks 31-42. Pregnancy is often thought of as 40 weeks, but full term is now considered any time between 39 weeks, 0 days and 40 weeks, 6 days. That spans 1 week before the due date to 1 week after the due date.
In many cases, your first prenatal appointment may not take place until 8 weeks gestation. Prenatal care truly starts, however, the moment you even consider getting pregnant. Preconception health is an understanding of how your body is functioning, medications you’re taking and lifestyle considerations that could have an impact on your pregnancy and the health of the unborn baby. The Office on Women’s Health recommends women give themselves three months to prepare before getting pregnant. The five things to prioritize include:
Taking 400-800 micrograms of folic acid every day for at least 3 months to reduce the risk of birth defects in the brain and spine. Research shows that daily folic acid reduces the risk of neural tube defects by 70%. Some foods, like cereals and grains, include folic acid but it’s best to get the necessary amount from a supplement.
Stop smoking and drinking alcohol. In addition to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the use of tobacco and alcohol has been shown to increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Work to manage any medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and thyroid disease.
Consider any medication or supplements you’re currently taking and confirm with your doctor if they are safe for pregnancy. If not, discuss your options.
Avoid contact with toxic substances or materials, including chemicals.
Prenatal visits with a health care provider will typically include a physical exam, weight check and a urine sample. Depending on the stage of the pregnancy, you can expect blood tests and ultrasounds. The very first appointment is typically the longest; in addition to a general exam, medical history and lifestyle will also be discussed. Blood work to determine blood type, blood count and Rh factor is completed during the first visit, along with testing for certain viruses and sexually transmitted diseases. This work up can help determine if there are any warning signs that the pregnancy is high risk; if so, prenatal care will be adjusted accordingly. Depending on the issue, you may also have appointments with a specialist.
Pregnancy requires many appointments with your obstetrician – typically once a month during the first two trimesters, then twice a month during weeks 28 through 36, and eventually every week from week 36 until delivery. Women with high-risk pregnancies will be seen by their obstetrician more frequently. These check ups all serve a purpose and should not be missed.
The cost of prenatal care ultimately depends on health insurance coverage. With insurance, most prenatal visits and diagnostic tests like ultrasounds are covered as “preventative” care. Without health insurance, the average cost of prenatal care is about $2,000. Planned Parenthood, community health centers and family planning clinics may offer free or low-cost prenatal care and you may qualify for health insurance through your state. Every state in the United States has a program to help women have healthy pregnancies.
Whether you are pregnant for the first time or carrying a surrogate pregnancy, prenatal care is essential for the health of both you and the baby. Are you a woman who was enjoyed a healthy and successful pregnancy? Do you have friends or family who have suffered from infertility or need assistance from someone else to build their family? Have you ever considered the role you could play in helping someone else build their family - as a surrogate? Talk to us to learn more about the possibilities to help someone else's dream come true.