Prenatal Care

Pregnancy is an exciting time for a woman. It can also be a difficult and challenging time. Prenatal care is crucial to a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. A pregnant woman has many decisions to make including who will provide care to her during her pregnancy, who will deliver the baby and where the birth will take place. First, choose which type of healthcare providers you want involved. Choices include:

  • Obstetrician - is a medical doctor specializing in medical and surgical care during pregnancy, childbirth and shortly after delivery. A maternal-fetal medicine specialist is an obstetrician with special training for high-risk pregnancies.
  • Family practice doctor - is a medical doctor who provides care for the whole family through all stages of life, including pregnancy and delivery. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says most family doctors do not perform cesarean deliveries.
  • Certified nurse midwife (CNM) - is a registered nurse with advanced education, training and experience in taking care of women before, during and after pregnancy and is certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board.
  • Certified midwife (CM) - has specialized education and training in midwife practices and is certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board.
  • Doula - is a professional labor coach who gives physical and emotional support during labor and delivery. They do not perform exams or give medical advice.

Once you decide on the type of provider that best suits your needs, you will need to select one or more. You may choose to have an obstetrician and a doula, for instance. It is important that you feel comfortable with your healthcare providers. You should leave visits feeling emotionally satisfied, reassured, and with all your questions answered. The March of Dimes offers these questions to help you decide:

  • What's the reputation of the provider?
  • Do they have the level of expertise you need?
  • Do they take time to answer your questions and explain things clearly, to both you and your partner?
  • Is the office a convenient distance from your home or work?
  • Do the office hours work for you?
  • Can the healthcare provider deliver your baby at a particular hospital or birthing center that you want to use?
  • Is the healthcare provider a sole practitioner or part of a group practice?
  • Who will replace your healthcare provider if he or she isn't available in an emergency or when labor begins?
  • Is the cost of the provider's services covered by your insurance company?

There are also many options to consider when deciding where to have your baby:

  • Hospitals - According to HHS, hospitals are the best choice for women with complications or high-risk pregnancies. In addition, hospitals offer the most advanced medical equipment and trained professionals. Procedures such as cesarean section or pain relief options, like epidurals, are often only available in hospitals.
  • Birthing Centers - This is an independent facility designed to give healthy women with low-risk pregnancies an alternative to hospitals. HHS says birth centers offer a "homey" birthing environment. Usually certified nurse-midwives, not obstetricians, deliver babies at birth centers. HHS says epidurals are not usually available and c-sections are not performed.
  • Homebirth - HHS says healthy women with no risk factors during pregnancy, labor or delivery can consider a planned homebirth. Some certified nurse-midwives will deliver babies at home. But, if there is an emergency, you or your baby will not have immediate access to hospital medical care.

Taking good care of yourself and your baby during pregnancy includes regularly scheduled prenatal exams. According to HHS, after the first visit, most prenatal visits to a healthcare provider will include:

  • checking blood pressure and weight
  • checking the baby's heart rate
  • measuring your abdomen to check for the baby's growth.

At different times in your pregnancy, you may have additional exams and tests performed to look for potential problems. Some of those tests include:

  • blood tests for a number of conditions such as anemia, Hepatitis B, or HIV
  • ultrasound
  • gestational diabetes testing (Read about Diabetes)
  • amniocentesis
  • tests for harmful infections
  • tests for birth defects and other abnormalities

Make prenatal care a priority and let it be a learning experience. Go to all of your prenatal care appointments, even if you are feeling fine. Talk with your healthcare provider about nutrition, weight gain or fetal growth, and the signs of labor and contractions. Ask to speak to a nutritionist or a genetic counselor if you are still unclear about certain subjects. Staying healthy and informed is the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby.