What Happens During a Prenatal Checkup?
Pregnancy and Childbirth
October 23, 2020
What Happens During a Prenatal Checkup?
Pregnant woman at exam
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Heather Bartos, M.D., OB/GYN

First things first, congratulations on your pregnancy! From here on out, you’ll forever be thinking of how you can best take care of that little bundle of a joy — even when they’re grown up and out of the house! So naturally, as you schedule your very first prenatal check-up, questions may be as to what the check-up will be like. What kind of tests will be performed? What questions will you be asked? Can you bring your whole family with you? Should you have questions of your own? 

That’s why we spoke with Heather Bartos, M.D., an OB/GYN and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Frisco and at be. Women’s Health & Wellness just east of Prosper and soon to be in Frisco, to clear up any and all questions you may have about the first big appointment and then every check-up after that, plus some tips on how to be best prepared each time. 

What is prenatal care?

Prenatal care refers to any care you and your baby receive during the course of your pregnancy, whether it be from a physician, nurse or midwife. Receiving prenatal care is important because it helps ensure that you and baby are safe and healthy throughout the pregnancy. 

During these visits your health care provider will monitor your baby’s development and do routine testing to help find and prevent possible problems. These regular checkups are also a great time to learn how to ease any discomfort you may be having, and ask any other questions about your pregnancy and the birth of your baby.  

You can start having prenatal care appointments as soon as you know you’re pregnant, and you’ll follow a recommended schedule of visits after the first initial visit based on how far along you are and how high your risk for complications is. 

The typical prenatal care schedule for someone who’s 18-35 years old and healthy is:

  • Every 4 or 6 weeks for the first 32 weeks
  • Every 2 or 3 weeks for the 32nd-37th weeks
  • Every week from the 37th week until delivery

The first check-up

The first prenatal check-up appointment is usually one of the longest and most anticipated of all the visits because it’s when you get to see that little bundle of joy for the first time. 

But besides finally getting to see your future baby on screen, you’ll also go over what Bartos refers to as ‘housekeeping items,’ to help make sure you and your provider (or team of providers) are best prepared for your journey through pregnancy.  

You’ll talk with your provider about your medical history, the father’s medical history, and your family’s’ medical history.

Your doctor will give you a complete check-up, not too much different from your annual well-woman exam. This can include:

  • Measuring your height, weight, blood pressure, breathing, and pulse
  • A clinical breast exam
  • A pelvic exam
  • A Pap test
  • Testing for sexually transmitted infections (such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV)
  • A urine test
  • Screening for diabetes, anemia, hepatitis B, and rubella

Your doctor might also talk with you about your diet and lifestyle, prenatal vitamins, and any medications or supplements you’re taking. Your doctor can also give you advice about any changes you can make or concerns you have in order to have the healthiest pregnancy possible.

“A big part of the first visit is reassuring mom about common issues in pregnancy and also giving her usable advice about when to go to the emergency room versus seeing us in office for a problem,” Bartos explains. “At our office, we generally talk about the providers on her care team (we do team-based obstetrics) and hospital choice, etc.”

Moving forward

During your follow-up prenatal care visits, your provider will examine you to make sure your pregnancy is developing well, and that you and baby are healthy. While less extensive than the first visit, your provider may still check your urine, weight and blood pressure and update your medical history. In addition, they will check for swelling, feel your belly to check the position of the baby, measure the growth of your belly, and listen to your baby’s heartbeat. At your follow-up visits you can also opt to know the sex of the baby or do genetic testing. The sex of your baby can be detected typically around your second sonogram (18 to 21 weeks). 

While these appointments are great for checking up on baby, Bartos says they’re also a great time to talk about any questions or concerns that have come up since your last visit.

“I try to stress to women to keep a list of questions for each visit,” she explains. “But sometimes patients bring pages of questions and we can’t possibly go over everything in-depth with a list that long. So reserve just a few that you can’t get answered through birth groups, prenatal classes, etc. We usually tell moms to bring questions that match the trimester they’re in so we’re not getting ahead of ourselves.” 

Much like anything else these days, Bartos says to not forget a face mask and ask before you bring a support partner or multiple people, since many offices are limiting the number of visitors you can bring with you. 

As for the most important thing Bartos says you should always bring with you to your checkups — a go-with-the-flow vibe, “because that’s parenting.”

To find an OB/GYN, visit TexasHealth.org. Download the Pregnancy Planning Guide for tips and information to manage your pregnancy. 

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