The importance of prenatal care during pregnancy cannot be overstated. Without it, expectant mothers risk both their own lives and the lives of the children they carry. Pregnancy is not a walk in the park, and having the guidance of an experienced medical professional along the way is invaluable.

But, with about 15 percent of women in the United States not receiving adequate prenatal care, the importance of prenatal care seems to not be as widely understood as it should be. While there are many factors that can restrict a woman’s ability to get prenatal care — including education, location and other socioeconomic conditions — a misunderstanding of the purpose of prenatal care can also play a huge role. It’s not enough to live a healthy life during pregnancy; prenatal care is necessary to protect an expectant mother and her unborn child.

Below, you can find out a bit more about the importance of prenatal care health — and why it is not optional for women like you.

Why is Prenatal Care Important?

If you are facing an unplanned pregnancy, you may be unsure of whether you wish to carry your pregnancy to term. Whether or not you have decided on an unplanned pregnancy option yet, you should still receive prenatal care as soon as possible. If you have not been preparing for pregnancy, your doctor will need to look at the state of your pregnancy and your personal health to ensure continuing your pregnancy is even a safe option for you.

Personalized, professional prenatal care is important because every woman and her pregnancy is different. No two pregnancies are exactly the same, which means the risks and complications that one expectant mother may face may not be the same as another expectant mother. Only an experienced obstetrician can evaluate these risks and prevent the likelihood of future complications.

If you’re new to pregnancy, it’s normal to ask, “Why is prenatal care so important? Can’t I just take care of myself and everything else will work out?”

While beneficial, a healthy lifestyle cannot protect you from all the risks and complications of pregnancy. Consider the fact that women who receive inadequate prenatal care:

  • Are three times more likely to have a baby with a low birth weight
  • Give birth to babies who are five times more likely to die
  • Are more likely to give birth to babies with health complications
  • Can exacerbate existing physical and mental health conditions during their pregnancy

If you don’t take seriously the importance of early prenatal care and care throughout your pregnancy, you are exposing yourself and your unborn child to risks and complications that can seriously harm you both — and can even be fatal.

There is a reason why prenatal care is necessary in every pregnancy — because it works.

What are the Goals of Prenatal Care?

Now that we’ve established why prenatal care is important, you probably want to know exactly what prenatal care does that is so helpful. We understand; before you spend your time and money with a doctor, you want to know what you are getting into.

Before you choose an obstetrician and get started, it’s important to know what to expect from your prenatal care. This is an important part of understanding the purpose of prenatal care as a whole.

As mentioned, every woman will have a different prenatal care schedule and medical protocol, based on her own medical history and current situation. But, regardless of a woman’s personal situation, prenatal care is designed to:

  • Reduce the risk of pregnancy complications: Pregnancy comes with certain risks and possible complications for expectant mothers. Proper monitoring by a medical professional can identify and reduce any risk factors that exist. Medical guidance for topics such as substance abuse, exercise, diet and more are also part of this aspect of prenatal care.
  • Reduce the baby’s risk for complications, in and out of the womb: Medical professionals will also monitor the baby’s development inside the womb to ensure he or she is as healthy as possible. This will often include testing for certain diseases, disorders and conditions and educating a woman about the choices she can make (abstaining from alcohol and drugs, for example) to give her child the best start at life possible.
  • Ensure a woman’s medications are safe: Many women take medication as part of their everyday life, but not all of these medications are safe for a developing baby. As part of your prenatal care, your medical professional will evaluate your prescriptions and determine what kind of medical protocol you can continue to use to keep both you and your baby healthy. Without this knowledge, you could unknowingly harm your unborn child.

In addition, when you speak with your medical professional, he or she will likely identify personal goals for your prenatal care as well, including reducing any risks you may be prone to because of your personal situation. Your doctor will always explain the importance of prenatal care in your situation so you understand exactly why they suggest the things they do.

What are the Benefits of Prenatal Care?

Beyond the health advantages of prenatal care, there are a few reasons that a woman facing an unexpected pregnancy should receive prenatal care as soon as possible. If you are in this situation, you may not have a lot of experience with pregnancy and you probably aren’t prepared for the responsibilities and challenges that await you throughout the next nine months. Prenatal care can be comparable to the “introduction to pregnancy” class you may need.

While the importance of prenatal and postnatal care for your personal health should not be understated, there are a few other reasons you should receive prenatal care for your unplanned pregnancy:

  • Answers to your questions about pregnancy: If this pregnancy is your first, you probably have a lot of questions about what to expect. The answers to those questions may even play a role in which unplanned pregnancy option you decide to pursue. When you meet with a medical professional for a pregnancy appointment, they will be happy to answer all of your questions about what pregnancy is like, what it may be like for you and what you can expect moving forward.
  • Give you an update on your baby’s development: You know all of those wonderful sonogram photos that expectant parents like to gush over? You will receive those during your prenatal visits, if you so desire. Whether you choose to parent your baby or place them for adoption, it can be an amazing experience to watch them grow inside you and stay up to date on their development before they are born.
  • Prepare you for labor and delivery: Your medical professional can also play a crucial role in answering your questions about childbirth and helping you prepare for this life-changing experience. In many cases, the obstetrician who provides your prenatal care will be there for your delivery, too; they’ll support you through every step of this new journey.

The benefits of prenatal care are numerous, and we encourage every woman facing an unplanned pregnancy to contact a medical professional as soon as possible to receive the care she needs. Starting yourself off on the right foot will make all the difference in the next nine months to come.