Out of the millions of women who give birth in the U.S. every year, nearly one third will experience birth complications. Pregnant women who receive appropriate prenatal care early on in pregnancy are able to detect complications as soon as possible, and potentially avoid serious complications. So when is the best time to receive prenatal care? Ideally, before you even get pregnant.
If you are pregnant, or plan to become pregnant, see your doctor for a complete checkup. Routine testing provides insight into women’s health issues and uncovers any potential conditions that may impact your pregnancy or ability to get pregnant. Tell your doctor if you experience any unusual symptoms, and be sure to touch on the following important topics.
Chronic health conditions
Talk to your doctor about how any chronic health conditions may affect your pregnancy, including: diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, heart problems, depression, severe allergies, etc. If you currently receive treatment for a chronic condition, you may need to adjust or stop certain medications, especially during your first trimester, to reduce the risk of birth defects. New mothers with chronic health conditions need to be even more careful when it comes to disease management. For example, it is especially important for women with diabetes to monitor their blood glucose both when they start trying to conceive and during pregnancy.
Talk to your doctor about any lifestyle habits that may pose a risk to your baby, such as smoking and consuming alcohol. And be sure to discuss prenatal vitamins. Your OB-GYN will probably recommend prenatal vitamins containing iron, calcium and folic acid. Vitamins with folic acid help prevent developmental complications of the spine and nervous system, known as neural tube defects. These defects may occur during the first 28 days of pregnancy, before you even know you’re pregnant.
Health and heredity
A complete healthcare assessment contributes to proper prenatal health because it provides your doctor with information about hereditary health conditions. Start with this family health history form from the March of Dimes, and be sure to provide information on both potential parents. Consider genetic testing if either partner has a family history of a genetic disorder or may be a carrier. Your doctor can refer you to a genetic counselor if necessary. You may become pregnant before seeing your doctor, and that’s okay. Get in to see your OB-GYN as soon as you can; it’s never too late to get the care you need to protect yourself and your baby.
Finding the right care
Finding the right healthcare provider will make it easier to get the care you need. The following doctors specialize in caring for pregnant women:
- Obstetricians – Care for pregnant women through childbirth
- Obstetricians/gynecologists (OB-GYNs) – Treat women’s health issues with an emphasis on pregnancy and childbirth
- Family practitioners – Treat patients of all ages with a variety of services, possibly including obstetrical care
- A certified nurse-midwife – Serve women's health needs, including prenatal care, labor and delivery, and postpartum care for pregnancies without complications
For healthy women who don’t anticipate any pregnancy-related complications, any of the above practitioners can provide adequate prenatal care. Note that nurse-midwives need a doctor available for deliveries where a cesarean section may need to be performed.
You may need a doctor specializing in high-risk pregnancies if you:
- Have a chronic health condition like heart problems or diabetes
- Are at an increased risk of preterm labor
- Are 35 or older
- Are pregnant with multiple fetuses
- Have other health factors that put you at a high risk for complications
Learn more about pregnancy and childbirth at HealthONE.