Prenatal Care: Guide
|Congratulations, You Are Pregnant!
Or maybe you have just taken the decision to try for a baby. Either way, now is the time to start thinking about your prenatal care (also known as antenatal care). Prenatal care refers to the medical care of a woman just before and during pregnancy. Postnatal care refers to the care of the mother and child after birth. The aim of prenatal care is to detect any problems early and to prevent them developing if possible into complications through regular check-ups, advice on nutrition, vitamins and exercise. Doctors suggest it is a good idea to start preparing for pregnancy and looking after your body at least 3 months before falling pregnant. This is to ensure you are in the best physical health possible. But don't worry if you didn't plan ahead, now is as good a time as any to start.
Steps to Prenatal Care
Think about what sort of medical care you would like during your pregnancy. You have the option of staying with a family practitioner who you may like and trust. Alternatively, you can seek out an OB/GYN which is a doctor who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology. Or, you may choose to consult a midwife – particularly popular with women planning a home birth or waterbirth. To learn more, read about choosing your pregnancy healthcare team.
Schedule your first prenatal visit; this should happen as soon as your pregnancy is confirmed with a home pregnancy test or by your family doctor. The first visit will be the longest of your prenatal visits. Your healthcare worker will go through your complete medical history, including for example inoculations for rubella and flu. You will also receive advice on prenatal nutrition, vitamin supplements (such as folic acid), exercise and well-being. Pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness, strange metallic tastes, cravings, dizziness, pregnancy induced back pain, cramps and breast changes will be discussed. A routine blood and urine sample will also be taken. Depending on your age profile, family history and ethnicity some basic genetic testing may be carried out, most commonly for Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia. You will continue to have prenatal visits throughout the three pregnancy trimesters. Women over 35 may be offered further diagnostic prenatal tests, such as an amniocentesis test between weeks 14 to 18.
As studies consistently show that women who receive regular prenatal care are more likely to experience a safe pregnancy as well as safer delivery, it is important to go through the correct procedures during your nine months. Yet, pregnancy is an expensive business; the estimated cost for a regular uncomplicated hospital vaginal delivery is $6,000 to $8,000 alone. And this does not even cover doctors fees! Most health insurance plans cover maternity costs, but may not cover out of pocket expenses. If you are from a low-income family and are without maternity insurance, Medicaid may be an alternative option. See prenatal care costs.
If you receive an abnormal result from routine prenatal tests, your doctor may recommend an amniocentesis or a chorionic villus sampling test (CVS). An amniocentesis offers a more concrete diagnosis on chromosomal abnormalities and fetal infections. Most commonly it accurately diagnoses Down syndrome (trisomy 21), Edwards syndrome (trisomy 18), Turner syndrome (monosomy X) and Fragile X. A CVS is also used to diagnose Down syndrome, as well as sickle cell anemia, spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, Turner syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome and Tay-Sachs. In some instances, a genetic counselor may be recommended.
Probably the most exciting part of any prenatal appointment : pregnancy ultrasound scans. Most women have a doppler ultrasound scan in their first trimester of pregnancy, typically before week 15. You may also be offered an additional first trimester scan called a nuchal scan at week 12. The second trimester scan is usually carried out between weeks 18 to 22 of pregnancy. This is known as a level 2 scan and is called an anatomy scan, it is performed with the transabdominal procedure. This is the first time you may spot your baby's heart beat, face, legs or arms. Some clinics offer ultrasound scan photos and video images (the images are also known as 3D sonograms) as a keepsake. Generally most women are only offered 2 scans. A third trimester scan may be scheduled where there is some concern over the baby or mother's well-being. See also, what tests do you need during pregnancy?
Birthing classes are usually offered through birthing centers and hospitals. Also commonly referred to as Lamaze classes, they offer practical advice on what to expect during pregnancy and how best to prepare for the stages of labor and delivery. The majority of women start classes in the third trimester, but if you are a first time mom, you may consider one as early as your first trimester. Longer courses cover topics on how your baby is developing and how to recognize the signs of fetal problems. Birthing classes usually book up very quickly, so it is worth booking your course well in advance.
Start having discussions early with your doctor about what sort of delivery you would ideally like to have. If you are planning a natural birth, a home birth or a waterbirth then plans will need to be put in place. If you are considering using a doula, then she will be able to help you formulate your birth plan. Alternatively you may choose to look at birthing centers in your area as they also offer prenatal checkups, birthing and breastfeeding classes. If you have a high-risk pregnancy, or if you are planning a C-section delivery or the use of an epidural pain relief you are not likely to have an alternative to a hospital delivery.
|Related Articles on PRENATAL HEALTHCARE
For more topics related to mom and baby care, see the following:
• Pelvic Pain during Pregnancy - In first trimester or after week 10.
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