Pregnancy - Prenatal Medical Care
As soon as a woman discovers she is pregnant, she should establish a schedule of prenatal care with her physician/midwife for the entire duration of the pregnancy. For normal pregnancies without significant complications, prenatal exams are usually scheduled as follows:
- every month from the 1st week through the 28th week
- every two weeks from the 29th week through the 36th week
- weekly from the 37th week until delivery
This schedule may vary depending on your personal medical condition and your physician's preference. Additional prenatal care may be necessary if there are any preexisting medical conditions (i.e., diabetes) present in the mother and/or if complications arise while carrying the baby to term.
Prenatal care can be provided by various medical professionals, including the following:
- Obstetrician/Gynecologist (OB/GYN) - a physician who has specialized training in the care of women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. An OB-GYN also specializes in many gynecological health issues.
- Family Physician (FP) - a physician who has specialized training in primary care, including obstetrics.
- Nurse Practitioner - a nurse with specialized training who can provide women's health care. Nurse Practitioners are certified by either the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners or the American Nurse Credentialing Center.
- Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) - a nurse who has additional training to care for women with low-risk pregnancies. Some midwives work with physicians while some work on an independent basis. CNMs are certified by the American College of Nurse Midwives.
- Perinatologist - an obstetrician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Perinatologists are also called maternal-fetal specialists.
Obstetricians (and other physicians who specialize in maternal-fetal medicine, reproductive endocrinology, and/or infertility) are certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Almost 2,000 obstetricians are certified annually.
The goal of prenatal care is not only to provide the best care for the pregnant woman and the unborn child, but also to prepare the mother-to-be for the delivery of a healthy baby. During prenatal visits, tests are performed on both the mother and the baby to assess any potential risks, to treat any maternal or fetal complications, and to monitor the growth and development of the fetus. In addition, counseling and guidance are provided regarding various aspects of pregnancy, including weight gain, exercise, nutrition, and overall health. A typical prenatal visit may include any/all of the following:
- Weight measurement
- Blood pressure measurement
- Measurement of the uterus to check for proper growth of the fetus
- Physical examination of the mother to identify problems or discomforts (i.e., swelling of the hands and feet)
- Urine test to measure sugar and protein levels, which can indicate diabetes or preeclampsia (a condition characterized by pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and swelling due to fluid retention)
- Fetal heart rate measurement
- Prenatal screening tests (i.e., blood tests to check for anemia)
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