Learning that you are pregnant is both an exciting and terrifying moment. A flood of questions run through your mind. Nurseries, diapers, teething, toddlers, teenagers, oh my! Before any of these topics can even be remotely handled, however, the first and foremost thing needing your attention is your own prenatal care.
As soon as possible after you confirm your pregnancy, schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN. Having regular doctor visits and medical tests will help you maintain a healthy pregnancy, birth, and ultimately a healthy baby. Having good prenatal care is essential to your overall health.
What to Expect from Prenatal Care
First off, your doctor will ask you a series of questions, reviewing your medical history as well as checking on your current pregnancy symptoms, your vitals, and urine and blood samples. You’ll have these same tests regularly through your 40 weeks of pregnancy to track your own health and the health of the baby. These tests will also check for bacteria, high sugar levels, high iron levels, or infectious diseases.
Depending on your medical history or that of your baby’s father, your doctor may run a few other tests including:
- A pelvic exam to check the size of your uterus
- A pap smear to screen for cervical cancer
- An ultrasound to view your baby’s growth and position.
Every pregnancy is different but there are some standard procedures. Typically you will have a prenatal appointment once every 4 weeks up until you reach 28-30 weeks. From there, it will be two times a week up until your last four weeks. At that point, weekly visits will be necessary. Each visit your nurse will check your weight and blood pressure and the doctor will listen to the baby’s heartbeat and measure your abdomen after 20 weeks.
Between 20 and 25 weeks you will also have a glucose screen to test for gestational diabetes. When women hear the word “diabetes,” they almost always internally panic. This type of diabetes, however, can only occur during pregnancy and will go away after your baby is born. Not all women are diagnosed with GD, but those that are must adjust their diet severely and some even have to go on insulin until giving birth.
What Should You NOT do While Pregnant?
There is an overarching perception that once a woman is pregnant, there is a laundry list of thing she can no longer do. This is a common misconception, however. The list of a woman’s limitations is relatively small in comparison to the things she now needs to do. Having said that, here are a few things you should avoid or eliminate all together during your pregnancy:
- Alcohol – drinking alcohol is the leading cause of preventable birth defects. Once you’ve reached 30 weeks, your doctor may allow you to have a glass of wine once a week. But all liquor is off limits.
- Drugs – any form of drug including cocaine, heroin, marijuana or even some prescription drugs increase your risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, and major birth defects including brain damage. Your baby can even be born with an addiction to the same drugs you abuse while pregnant. If you are currently using a prescription drug, consult your doctor at your first appointment about its safety for your baby.
- Smoking – smoking or vaping increase your risk for miscarriage, low birth weight or other major health problems for your baby.
- Kitty litter – while not usually considered, cleaning up after your cat could case toxoplasmosis, a disease that causes permanent birth defects.
- Raw meat or fish – Sorry sushi lovers, but consuming raw fish or undercooked red meat also leaves you vulnerable for toxoplasmosis.
What CAN you do while pregnant?
On the flip side of this, there are many things from your normal daily routine that are perfectly fine to continue. You may hear many people who judge you or question your behavior, but as long as you consult with your OB and listen to your own body, feel free to continue.
- Working your normal job – many women experience some severe early pregnancy symptoms that make it difficult to maintain their jobs, but there is no reason to stop working if you feel comfortable doing so. There also are many women who do not take maternity leave until the day they give birth.
- Take your vitamins – absolutely continue to take your vitamins and add a prenatal vitamin to the list. As you are growing another human inside you, you need the extra nutrients.
- Focus on a well-balanced diet – eating healthy, whole foods during your pregnancy is the best thing you can do for yourself. You may experience some odd food combination cravings and reach for the tub of ice cream regularly. As long as you keep things in moderation and still focus on the healthier options, you will be just fine.
- Drinking coffee – over the years many sources have insisted that pregnant women remove all forms of caffeine from their diet, especially during the first trimester. The trick here is, many women do not even know they are pregnant until mid-way through the first trimester. Unless you have high blood pressure or other health issues as indicated by your doctor, keeping your caffeine intake under 250 mg (about 1-2 cups of coffee) will be just fine.
Frequently Asked Questions about Prenatal Care
How much weight should I gain during pregnancy?
Because every pregnancy is different, there is no hard set number for how much you should or shouldn’t gain. Speak to your doctor on a regular basis if you have concerns, but on average it is healthy for a woman to gain 25-30 lbs during the pregnancy.
Can I keep working out?
Absolutely. Unless some major concerns develop, you should get regular exercise. Talk to your doctor or a certified personal trainer to develop a program you can follow during the stages of your pregnancy. Many women say that exercising while pregnant makes labor and delivery significantly easier. If you are an Olympic lifter prior to pregnancy, there may be some specific exercises to remove from your routine or if you are not active at all prior, start slowly as you build a routine.
If you have any questions or feel dizzy, blurred vision, chest pain, have any vaginal bleeding or stomach pain, call your doctor immediately.
What about sex?
It is safe to continue your sex life while pregnant – some even find it more enjoyable. Keep in mind that as your belly grows, you may need to try some different positions in order to remain comfortable.
Will I be uncomfortable my whole pregnancy?
The answer to this is yes and no. Each pregnancy is different, and each stage of pregnancy also radically changes. You may experience things like morning sickness, fatigue, leg cramps, hemorrhoids, increased urination, mood swings, heartburn, or bleeding gums. These and many other symptoms are very common but also manageable. Some women have these symptoms to an extreme, while others have little to none. As long as you remain in communication with your doctor and follow their direction, they will be able to help you with any discomfort as best they can.
When to talk to your doctor
The most important thing to remember in your relationship with your doctor is… there are no bad questions. If you have a concern about anything, definitely ask. They are there to help you and can only help if you give them the needed information. It is vital that you call your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Sudden extreme swelling in your face or fingers
- Severe headaches
- Extreme nausea or vomiting
- Dim or blurry vision
- Severe cramps in your lower abdomen
- Chills or fever
- A change in your baby’s movements – either rapid or suddenly less frequent
- Burning when you urinate
- Any infections
- Any odd symptoms that bother you
A good rule of thumb is, it is better to ask and get comfort from an easy answer then to not ask at all and then end up with a more serious pregnancy complication. Keep good communication with your doctor or midwife and they will guide you through your pregnancy and delivery to be able to meet your sweet new baby.