Prenatal care is the term used for the health care a pregnant woman receives. It includes regular checkups and tests, as well as advice on diet, exercise, and other aspects of prenatal health. The primary objective of prenatal care is to monitor the health of the mother and baby during pregnancy so that any problems can be identified early. This care should begin as soon as you find out you are pregnant.
What Does Prenatal Care Entail?
The components of prenatal care vary depending on your individual situation, but may include the following:
- A physical exam, including weight and blood pressure checks.
- Advice about healthy eating habits, including how much weight to gain during pregnancy. If you are underweight or over-weight, your health care provider will recommend healthy dieting during pregnancy. They may also give you a referral to a nutritionist or dietician.
- Exercise and activity level advice, which may include avoiding any strenuous activities such as horseback riding and scuba diving. If you already have an exercise regimen, continue with it during pregnancy, unless your health care provider advises otherwise.
- Screening for gestational diabetes, including a blood sugar test during the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy. Women who have a higher risk for developing gestational diabetes may be screened earlier in their pregnancy.
- Screening for genetic disorders, such as sickle cell disease, Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis, and thalassemia.
- Screening for toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can cause serious health problems in the unborn baby.
- Screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
Why is Prenatal Care Essential?
Prenatal care is essential for three main reasons:
- Improved Birth Outcomes - Prenatal care helps identify and manage potential health problems for both the mother and baby. This can lead to a safer and healthier pregnancy, and in some cases, may even reduce the risk of complications at birth.
- Improved Health- Prenatal care can help identify and address potential health problems for both the mother and child.
- Reduced Incidence of Preterm Births - Preterm births are births that happen less than 37 weeks after the first day of a woman's last period. Prenatal care helps provide guidance for mothers that can help them avoid certain substances, (such as alcohol, drugs, and tobacco) and activities (like extreme physical exertion) that could lead to preterm births.
The Bottom Line
If you are pregnant, it is paramount to start prenatal care as soon as possible. The earlier you start, the more likely you will receive the care and information you need. Prenatal care is available through both private and public healthcare providers.