What is Prenatal Care and Why Is It Important?

Prenatal care allows you to have a healthy pregnancy and reach full term. Do you know what it involves? Keep reading.
What is Prenatal Care and Why Is It Important?

Last update: 25 September, 2021

Pregnancy is a physiological stage in which the maternal body transforms in order to give life to a new being. Although it’s a natural process, it’s not without complications. To prevent them, there’s a series of steps to prenatal care that the pregnant woman shouldn’t ignore.

Within this care, periodic medical check-ups allow early detection of risk situations that may compromise the health of the mother or baby. Below, we’ll tell you what they consist of and how important they are at each stage of pregnancy.

The importance of prenatal care

Prenatal care aims to improve or maintain the health of the mother and her baby during pregnancy. This is carried out through a periodic medical evaluation, which increases in frequency as the pregnancy progresses.

During prenatal checkups, health care is provided through the following strategies:

  • Prevention, diagnosis, and timely treatment of pregnancy complications
  • Monitoring of the growth and vitality of the baby
  • Education for women and their families on issues related to childbirth and postpartum
  • Treatment of typical pregnancy symptoms or discomforts
  • Preparation of the pregnant woman for the birth of her baby

According to data from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, babies born to mothers who haven’t received adequate prenatal care can suffer from various health complications.

According to estimates, these children have triple the risk of low birth weight in comparison to children of mothers who’ve attended all the controls. And, in addition, they’re five times more likely to die than the latter.

In addition, the WHO states that prenatal care of at least 8 encounters can reduce perinatal deaths by up to 8 out of every 1000 births. So, prenatal care can prevent complications during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.

Prenatal checkups also help pregnant women to live more calmly during pregnancy and to prepare physically and psychologically for what’s to come.

What to expect from the first visit

A woman at a prenatal checkup.

Once you know you’re pregnant or suspect that you are, it’s important to make your first prenatal appointment. Ideally, you should have your first appointment between weeks 6 and 8 after the date of your last period.

Your medical history

During this visit, you’ll meet the obstetrician-gynecologist and the nurse or midwife who’ll accompany you during this stage. In addition, in this consultation, the doctor will make a point to collect important information, in order to know your state of health and to establish the degree of probable risk of your pregnancy.

Among the most relevant data in your history, the following stand out:

  • Medical and gynecological history
  • Previous surgical interventions
  • Previous pregnancies
  • Family medical history
  • Consumption of drugs and other substances, such as caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, and drug abuse

Then, the doctor will calculate your probable date of delivery, according to the day of the start of your last menstruation. This date serves as a guide for evaluating the evolution of the pregnancy and fetal growth. At the same time, it’s useful for scheduling the birth.

Physical examination

Subsequently, the obstetric team performs a complete physical examination and pays special attention to the breasts, pelvis, and genital tract. Apart from this, the team will evaluate the following aspects of the pregnant woman:

  • Blood pressure
  • Weight and height
  • Body mass index
  • Pap test

To complement the clinical examination, the doctor will request certain laboratory tests, such as a blood test, a urine test, or immunity tests.

Before finalizing the consultation, the doctor and the midwife take a few minutes to clarify any doubts related to the pregnancy, the changes that are inherent to this stage, and the healthy practices or habits that pregnant women should adopt from this moment on. Among them, food care, the need for vitamin supplements, and sports.

Visits to the obstetrician

Obstetric visits take place according to the week of gestation and the health status of the mother and baby. In general, doctors will follow the scheme below:

  • Every four weeks: Up to 28 weeks of pregnancy
  • Every two weeks: From week 28 to week 36, inclusive
  • Once a week: From week 37 until delivery

In the case of a high-risk pregnancy, the scheme adapts to individual needs and to what the doctor determines appropriate.

Prenatal tests

These are laboratory or imaging tests that take place in order to supplement the information obtained during the consultation.

Laboratory analysis

Within the laboratory tests, doctors seek to assess certain fundamental aspects of the health of the pregnant woman, such as:

  • The mother’s blood type: ABO group and RH factor are determined. It must also be performed by the father of the baby and, in case of incompatibility, the Coombs test must be added to detect if the woman has anti-Rh antibodies.
  • Hematology: This involves the testing of hemoglobin levels, white blood cell count, and platelets.
  • Glycemia: This is done to detect the risk of gestational diabetes.
  • Urine test: This determines the presence of bacteria in the urine or helps diagnose urinary tract infections that don’t show symptoms.
  • Immunity to infections: These tests are carried out by searching for antibodies to certain known germs, such as those that cause rubella, toxoplasmosis, or HIV, among others.
  • Other tests: Genetic tests, which are useful in detecting alterations in the chromosomes (such as Down syndrome) or the swab of perianal secretions to detect group B Streptococcus in the mother.

Fetal ultrasound

A pregnant woman getting an ultrasound.

This type of complementary examination serves to observe the baby inside the uterus and corroborate its adequate growth, among other issues. In general, it takes place during the following stages of pregnancy:

  • Between weeks 11 and 14 in order to determine the gestational age of the baby and evaluate the structure and function of the placenta (by means of uterine artery Doppler echo).
  • From weeks 20 to 22, a morphological ultrasound takes place, in which the doctor will review fetal growth, organ formation, sex, location of the placenta, and the umbilical cord. In addition, it serves to detect possible congenital malformations in time.
  • Fetal growth, the positioning of the fetus (head, breech, or transverse), the amount of amniotic fluid, and the integrity of the placenta are evaluated between weeks 32 and 38.

Go to all your prenatal care check-ups!

Performing all prenatal checkups in a timely manner is the best way to maintain a healthy pregnancy up to the 40th week of gestation.

In addition to the programmed controls, remember to go to the doctor’s office if you have a fever, severe abdominal pain or bleeding, and when any symptoms appear that your obstetrician has alerted you about.

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