As soon as your pregnancy is confirmed, you will need to begin prenatal care, a program of care throughout pregnancy that includes regularly scheduled visits with your obstetrical care provider. Most women will start to see their obstetrical care provider at eight to 12 weeks; then every four to six weeks until about the 28th to the 32nd week of pregnancy; every two to three weeks from that point until 36 weeks; and every week from 36 weeks until delivery (usually around 40 weeks). Problems or special needs may require more frequent visits. A second pregnancy may require fewer visits than the first.
These appointments, in addition to monitoring the baby's health and progress, can work wonders in helping you forget minor discomforts. Learning about your baby's growth and hearing its heartbeat can make pregnancy's side effects seem less bothersome.
Your first visit will usually be your most thorough. During this meeting, your obstetrical care provider will usually gather data about your personal and family medical history and evaluate any special conditions or risks of pregnancy-related complications. This appointment and all future appointments will usually include a check of your weight, a blood pressure check and a urine test for protein. In addition, your obstetrical care provider will usually perform a complete physical exam, including checking your breasts and pelvic organs.
The pelvic examination will enable your obstetrical care provider to evaluate the size of your uterus in relation to the date of your last period to be sure the pregnancy is progressing as it should. A Pap smear will also be performed on this visit, if you have not had one recently.
Prenatal visits during the second trimester can seem quick compared with your earlier ones. There will be no internal examination. The exams consist only of weight, blood pressure and urine checks. The size of the uterus will be checked by feeling your abdomen, and growth will be checked by measuring the height of the top of the uterus (the fundus). Your obstetrical care provider will usually listen to the baby's heartbeat during each visit. Most times you'll be able to listen and be excited too!
During your final month of pregnancy, your obstetrical care provider may want to see you weekly and, near the due date, may examine you internally. In addition to checking the baby's position, he or she will usually feel your cervix to see if it shows signs of dilation or effacement (thinning out). The external exam enables your obstetrical care provider to feel what position the baby is in (head-first or bottom first), and the internal exam shows how low the baby is (called its "station"). This enables your obstetrical care provider to guess how close you are to going into labor. If the baby is in the breech position (bottom first), your caregiver may talk to you about turning the baby around. This procedure, known as external version, is safe and, if successful, can prevent needing a Caesarean section delivery as most providers recommend this rather than a vaginal delivery if the baby remains in breech position.
In addition to monitoring your health and your baby's health, your prenatal care visits are also an opportunity for you to ask your obstetrical care provider any questions that have been worrying you. You might consider preparing a list of questions ahead of time. There are no foolish questions; if they are important enough to come to mind, they are important enough to ask.