It's important to know what's monitored during your prenatal care – this makes you aware and empowered with information about your own pregnancy and baby. Most women today get their prenatal care from a doctor or a midwife. Some women choose to monitor their own pregnancies through unassisted care.
Remember, even if you get prenatal care from your midwife or doctor, you're the one taking care of yourself during most of your pregnancy. You'll probably have from 7 – 11 prenatal visits, or 4% of the days you're pregnant. That means for 96% of your pregnancy, you won't be having an appointment. You take care of yourself and your baby those days, so be informed about pregnancy and your health, and get to know your baby 🙂
Prenatal care is part of modern pregnancy; in fact, it's often one of the highlights of pregnancy. You probably have a vague idea that prenatal care is for your health and the health of your baby, and quality prenatal care does improve outcomes.
It's important to realize a couple of things, though. First, more prenatal care does not equal better outcomes. In fact, despite increasing prenatal care, pregnancy outcomes today are actually poorer than in decades past. That doesn't mean you shouldn't go for appointments! It just means you should be aware that your pregnancy nutrition, exercise, stress relief, and overall care of yourself make the biggest impact in your pregnancy and the healthy of your baby.
Having said that, prenatal appointments can be fun, and depending on what you want to know, give you good information. Though more prenatal appointments don't generally equal greater outcomes, women are usually more satisfied with more prenatal appointments and feel like they have a better relationship with their midwife or doctor.
The hallmark of today's prenatal care is testing. Much of this testing has been made routine, but many pregnant women don't understand the point of the tests. You have the right to know what's being tested and why – it's your body and it's your baby.
Many tests are non-invasive (meaning they don't draw blood, enter the vagina/birth canal, go into the uterus, etc.). Some, such as weight checks, urine screening, blood pressure, and baby heart tones are checked at most appointments.
Others, such as genetic tests, CVS, amniocentesis, and ultrasound are done for specific reasons at certain appointments.
Again, it's your right to understand each test and decide if you want to have it done or not – some tests are a good idea, some are unnecessary for most moms, and some may have risks not completely understood (such as CVS and ultrasound). It's up to you and your care provider to discuss, and for you to decide what's right for you and your baby.
The person you choose for your prenatal care has a big influence on your pregnancy. Not only do your appointments have an emotional impact on pregnancy, your care provider also determines where you'll give birth. Choose carefully, and don't be afraid to shop around or even change providers if you're not being supported in your situation.
Many women choose to see an OB/GYN, or an obstetrician, during their pregnancy. This doctor specializes in obstetrics (pregnancy and birth) and can perform cesarean surgery. High risk women may see or consult with a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist (MFM), also called a perinatologist. Some women choose to see their family doctor for prenatal care. Family doctors, or general practitioners, can attend a vaginal delivery but do not perform c-sections. Almost all doctors attend births at hospitals.
Please note that you can have a natural birth in the hospital, and in many cases you can even if your pregnancy is considered “high risk.” The hospital may be the safest place for you, so shop around and find a doctor or MFM who will work carefully with you to have a healthy pregnancy and natural birth.
Some Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNM) will work with you along with your doctor, giving you the benefit of midwifery care during your pregnancy.
Mothers with healthy, uncomplicated pregnancies (“low-risk”) often choose a midwife for care, and as noted above, many CNM's will work in consultation with your doctor/MFM during a high-risk pregnancy. Midwives offer huge benefits as prenatal care providers.
Typically you enjoy continuity of care, which means you'll always see “your” midwife, and she attends your baby's birth. Appointments with her generally last around 1 hour (as opposed to 10-15 minutes with a doctor).
Midwives cover the same basic monitoring (more info below) as doctors, but also give extensive nutrition counseling, cover emotional well-being, exercise, help you work through anxieties and fears about birth, and even help you sort through relationship issues that impact pregnancy. They care for you – all of you – in a holistic model.
Some women choose to take complete responsibility for their own prenatal care and guide themselves through pregnancy week by week. They also take responsibility for their own birth – this is called unassisted prenatal care (UP) and unassisted childbirth (UC). Other names are family birth and freebirth.
Photo by eyeliam