If you have decided to carry your unplanned pregnancy to term, there’s probably a lot going through your mind. One of the first things you’ll need to do, however, is decide how and where you will receive your prenatal care — both for your baby’s wellbeing and for yours.
But, if you haven’t planned on being pregnant, you likely haven’t thought about the proper prenatal care that goes into carrying a baby to term. You may not even know what prenatal care is. Is it covered by insurance? Is it more than just vitamins and good diet? What if you don’t know any local gynecologists or obstetricians?
First things first: Take a deep breath. Prenatal care during pregnancy can be confusing for anyone, especially those who may have never gone through this experience before. The best prenatal care requires you to first be in a good mental state; if you’re stressed, so is your baby.
To help alleviate some of that stress, we’ve answered some of your biggest questions about pregnancy and prenatal care in this section of our website. We know how scared you may be, and we are here to help.
Below, find out a bit more about the basics of pregnancy prenatal care as you learn more about all the prenatal care information you need.
What is Prenatal Care?
Before you can start receiving prenatal care, it’s important that you understand the prenatal care definition. Prenatal care is the medical care that you will receive throughout your pregnancy. It will usually be given by a doctor, nurse or midwife and is necessary to keep you and your future baby healthy throughout the challenges of pregnancy.
Prenatal care during pregnancy will track your baby’s development and your own response to your pregnancy. Every pregnancy is different, even for a woman who’s been pregnant before. Therefore, prenatal care plays the important role of monitoring a mother and baby’s health during the expected and unexpected parts of pregnancy.
The best prenatal care should involve routine appointments and testing to monitor your health and help find and prevent possible pregnancy complications. What your exact checkup schedule will look like will depend upon your own medical history and situation, how far you are in your pregnancy, and more. In general, though, you can expect this kind of schedule:
- Every 4 or 6 weeks for the first 32 weeks
- Every 2 or 3 weeks for the 32nd-37th weeks
- Every week from the 37th week until delivery
So, what does prenatal care include?
What you can expect from each prenatal care appointment will depend upon the same factors. Your doctor will typically take your vitals as part of a complete check-up, offering you the chance to ask any questions and addressing any concerns you may have about proper prenatal care for your pregnancy. At certain appointments, your doctor may conduct an ultrasound, listen for the fetal heartbeat, complete any genetic testing you desire and more. The meaning of prenatal care will be different for each woman based on her personal history and what she wants from her pregnancy experience.
But, prenatal health care involves more than just going to appointments. You will also need to take prenatal vitamins, maintain a healthy lifestyle, prepare for childbirth and delivery, and more. When you obtain OB/GYN prenatal care, your doctor will usually provide a list of extra steps and precautions to take outside the office to keep yourself and your baby as healthy as possible.
For more information about your recommended prenatal medical care, please speak with your local obstetrician or clinic.
What You Should Know About the History of Prenatal Care
As you research antenatal and prenatal care today, there is a great deal of resources available to you to learn more. But, did you know that pregnancy prenatal care wasn’t always common knowledge for women — and that, in the history of prenatal care, doctors actually recommended many things that would shock you today?
Less than 100 years ago, most American women gave birth at home with no painkillers, often with just a family doctor in attendance. After a meeting of the American Medical Association in 1937, women increasingly began giving birth in hospital settings with medical painkillers. It would take until the 1960s and 1970s for attitudes around prenatal and antenatal care to change significantly: “liberated” women demanded more natural birthing options, fathers were brought into the delivery room, and female nurses began playing a greater role in the delivery process (which had previously only been overseen by a single male doctor).
Doctors today continue to advance prenatal and antenatal care as it best applies to an individual woman — not women in general. Whereas prenatal care history was first inspired by the desire to prevent preeclampsia, doctors today focus on many different aspects of pregnancy to provide the safest experience for both baby and mother.
But, as far as prenatal care history has come in the last 100 years, there is still plenty that can be done to improve its effectiveness and access for many American women today.
National Prenatal Care Statistics: An Area for Improvement
While prenatal medical care is a commonly accepted necessity in a healthy pregnancy, unfortunately, not all women in the United States are able to receive proper prenatal care while carrying a baby. In 2016, 15 percent of American women received inadequate prenatal care. This is due to several factors: education level, higher-order births for a pregnant mother, socioeconomic factors and more.
Prenatal care statistics by state are also telling about the availability of antenatal and prenatal care in the U.S. Southern states (such as New Mexico, Texas, and Arkansas) have lower rates of women beginning prenatal care in their first trimester in comparison to coastal states (such as California, Maine and Oregon). Overall, the states with the highest percentage of women receiving at least adequate prenatal care were Vermont, Maine and Road Island, with the lowest rates found in Colorado, New Mexico and Hawaii — the latter of which are states with high percentages of non-white residents.
According to the CDC, these women are those who are least likely to begin prenatal care in their first trimester or have at least adequate prenatal care:
- Younger women
- Women with less education
- Women having a fourth or higher-order birth
- Non-Hispanic Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaska Native, and black women
The CDC offers a wealth of prenatal care facts and statistics here for further reading.
Clearly, there is a lot to learn when it comes to prenatal health care, especially if you are facing a pregnancy you never expected. Know that by reading this article you are taking the first step to providing the best for yourself and your unborn baby. The more you educate yourself about proper prenatal care, the healthier your pregnancy will be in the long run.