Good prenatal care is one of the most significant factors in ensuring a safe pregnancy and delivery. It’s important to schedule your first prenatal visit with your doctor as soon as your pregnancy is confirmed.
Your first prenatal visit usually takes place around the 10th week of pregnancy. You’ll go through a number of tests and health checks, including a complete physical exam. You’ll also be asked a series of questions about your medical history and family medical history, including any genetic disorders, chronic diseases, or unusual pregnancies.
Ethnic heritage is an important factor in determining the risk for certain diseases. For example, sickle cell disease is more common in women of African descent, while Tay-Sachs disease occurs predominantly in women of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage. Your provider may recommend that you or your spouse undergo blood testing for certain inheritable diseases.
Your first prenatal visit is also the time to discuss any prescription medications that you are taking and whether or not they are safe to use during pregnancy. You will most likely have your urine tested, and may have an external abdominal exam to check the size and position of your fetus.
You will also have a blood test to ensure you are immunized against varicella, measles, mumps, and rubella, and to determine your blood type and Rh factor. A blood test will also be given to determine the presence of infections such as syphilis, hepatitis B, and HIV.
A pelvic exam is normally given during your first visit to see if the size of the uterus is what is expected at this point in the pregnancy. A swab of the cervix is typically performed to test for the sexually transmitted infections, gonorrhea and chlamydia. If you are due for your Pap smear, one will also be performed at this time.
A baby’s heartbeat can be heard as early as the 10th or 12th week with a Doppler, a hand-held ultrasound device that your doctor places on your stomach to amplify the sound. Depending on the baby’s position, the location of the placenta, the position of the uterus, or other factors, the heartbeat may not be audible at this time. If a heartbeat can’t be heard, your doctor may want to check again after the 14th week when there’s a better chance that the baby’s heartbeat will be audible with a Doppler or an ultrasound.
You will see your health care provider throughout the remainder of your pregnancy. Routine checks will include:
- Testing your urine for protein.
- Monitoring your blood pressure.
- Listening to the fetal heart rate.
- Measuring your fundal height (the approximate length of your uterus).
- Checking your hands and legs for any swelling.
In addition, as pregnancy progresses, your provider will most likely ask you about fetal movement, sleep patterns, and symptoms of preterm labor and preeclampsia (hypertension along with excessive protein in the urine and edema)