Prenatal Care Basics

Why do I need prenatal care?

Most people know that prenatal care is vital to keep you and your baby healthy, and the earlier the better. But did you know that babies of mothers who do not get prenatal care are three times more likely to have a low birth weight and five times more likely to die than those born to mothers who do get prenatal care? Doctors can spot health issues early when they see patients regularly and early treatment can cure many problems and prevent others. Health care providers also can talk to couples about things they can do to give their unborn babies a healthy start in life. 

Prenatal care begins before pregnancy

Prenatal care is the health care you get before delivery and while you are pregnant. Optimally, by the time you find out that you are pregnant, you are ready. You are your optimal weight, you regularly take a prenatal supplement including folic acid, and you know what to do and what not to do. The first visit with your doctor is essential. Read more about what happens at the first prenatal visit here. It determines what happens with your pregnancy, and tests are done to make sure everything is OK

Pre-Trimester Checklist: Before You Get Pregnant
Preconception Care
Pregnancy Nutrition and Food Guide 
All About Prenatal Vitamins and Supplements
Folic Acid During Pregnancy

How often should I see my doctor during pregnancy?

Your doctor will give you a schedule of all the doctor's visits you should have while pregnant. Most experts suggest you see your doctor:

  • About once each month for weeks 4 through 28
  • Twice a month for weeks 28 through 36
  • Weekly for weeks 36 to birth
  • If you are older than 35 or your pregnancy is high-risk, you'll probably see your doctor more often. 

Learn how prenatal care has changed: The New Model of Prenatal Care in the Age of COVID-19

What happens during your first prenatal visit?

During the first prenatal visit, you can expect your doctor to ask about your health history including diseases, operations, or prior pregnancies as well as your family's health history. You will also have a complete physical exam, including a pelvic exam and a Pap test. The doctor or midwife will also take your blood and urine for lab work, check your blood pressure, height, and weight, calculate your due date and answer your questions. At the first visit, you should ask questions and discuss any issues related to your pregnancy. Find out all you can about how to stay healthy.

1st trimester prenatal visits:

First Trimester Checklist
First Trimester of Pregnancy: Doctor's Appointments and Tests
First Trimester Tests: Nuchal Screening and Blood Test
Should You Choose a Birth Center for Your Pregnancy Care?

Prenatal visits in later pregnancy

Later prenatal visits will probably be shorter. Your doctor will check on your health and make sure the baby is growing as expected. Most prenatal visits will include checking your blood pressure, measuring your weight gain, measuring your abdomen to check your baby's growth (once you begin to show), and checking the baby's heart rate. While you're pregnant, you also will have some routine tests. Some tests are suggested for all women, such as blood work to check for anemia, your blood type, HIV, and other factors. Other tests might be offered based on your age, personal or family health history, your ethnic background, or the results of routine tests you have had. Visit the pregnancy section of our website for more details on prenatal care and tests.

2nd and 3rd trimester prenatal visits

Second Trimester Checklist
Second Trimester of Pregnancy: Doctor's Appointments and Tests
Third Trimester Checklist
Third Trimester of Pregnancy: Doctor's Appointments and Tests

Prenatal testing

Prenatal Blood Tests on Your First Visit
Prenatal Pregnancy Tests
Routine Blood Tests in Pregnancy and Prenatal Testing
Why Do Doctors Measure Your Stomach at Prenatal Visits?

Read More:
Online Pregnancy Test
Early Signs You May Be Pregnant
Pregnancy Week by Week
The Six Trimesters of Pregnancy

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