Healthy pregnancies begin with prenatal care.
Every pregnant woman’s desire is to have a healthy pregnancy and baby. This is the purpose of prenatal care, to work along with your physician to optimize the health of the pregnant woman and fetus. This can be done by preconception counseling, taking necessary supplements, and having routine screenings and regularly scheduled visits.
“Prenatal care is important in diagnosing and creating a treatment plan to have the best outcome possible,” says Dr. Brianne Anderson, who specializes in OB-GYN at Crescent City Physicians, Inc., a subsidiary of Touro Infirmary. “Women who do not seek prenatal care put themselves and their baby at risk for negative outcomes. There are conditions that can develop in pregnancy, such as issues with blood pressure and protein in the urine (preeclampsia), or issues with controlling blood sugar (gestational diabetes). These are examples of things that are screened for during prenatal visits and may require medical interventions to maintain a health pregnancy and baby.”
Other women have pre-existing conditions that may need to be optimized prior to getting pregnant, including hypertension, diabetes or autoimmune disorders. When you participate in pre-natal care, your doctor can effectively address multiple conditions early on if you adhere to his or her recommendations.
When Should You Start Prenatal Care?
Ideally, prenatal care begins prior to conception when pre-existing conditions can be treated and optimized. Prior to conception, your primary care doctor will discuss lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, or ceasing tobacco and drug use.
“Women are often pregnant before they realize it,” Dr. Anderson says. “Taking prenatal vitamins or folic acid prior to actually conceiving is a good way to ensure a fetus has what it needs in the early stages of development. Each pregnancy is different, which is why reaching out to a health care professional is so important.”
The Basics of Prenatal Health
For otherwise healthy women, your doctor will suggest taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid (at least 400 micrograms) every day. You may need to stop taking certain medications or change your medication regimen. Get a flu shot, and always tell every health care provider, including your pharmacist, that you’re pregnant.
It is recommended that you get a flu shot during each pregnancy. Pregnant women are more susceptible to getting the flu and are at higher risk of developing serious illness and being hospitalized. Babies cannot get the flu vaccine until they are at least 6 months old. The antibodies formed from the vaccination can be passed from mom to baby and offers them some degree of immunity once delivered.
It is also recommended that you get a Tdap vaccination in the third trimester of pregnancy. Similarly, babies can be born with some degree of protection from pertussis infections in the first few months of life.
How often should you have prenatal care visits?
How often you’ll get prenatal care depends on how far along your pregnancy is and how high your risk is for complications. The typical prenatal care schedule for someone who’s 18-35 years old and healthy is:
Every 4 weeks until 26 weeks
Every 2 weeks until 35 weeks
Every week until delivery
Your doctor might ask you to come in for check-ups more often if you have a high-risk pregnancy.
“The earlier you start prenatal care, the better,” Dr. Anderson says. “We all are different and unique in our own way, and each pregnancy is as well. Seeking the care of a physician prior to and throughout pregnancy is the best way to optimize your body for a healthy baby. If you have not reached out to a physician for prenatal care early in your pregnancy, go as soon as possible. It is important that you protect yourself and each child you carry with preventive care. Don’t assume that your second or third pregnancy will be the same as your first.”
Board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. Anderson treats women for routine gynecologic care, pregnancy and postpartum care, contraceptive choices, family planning and surgical services. “My patients are all ages, from adolescence to menopause,” she says. “I find that when women have a relationship with their OB-GYN, it creates a comfortable environment in which patients are able to communicate their health concerns without fear and anxiety. This creates the foundation for good medical care.”