Prenatal care is a type of preventive healthcare with the goal of providing regular check-ups that allow doctors or midwives to treat and prevent potential health problems throughout the course of the pregnancy while promoting healthy lifestyles that benefit both mother and child. During check-ups, women will receive medical information over maternal physiological changes in pregnancy, biological changes, and prenatal nutrition including prenatal vitamins. Recommendations on management and healthy lifestyle changes are also made during regular check-ups. The availability of routine prenatal care has played a part in reducing maternal death rates and miscarriages as well as birth defects, low birth weight, neonatal infections and other preventable health problems.
Traditional prenatal care generally consists of:
- monthly visits during the first two trimesters (from week 1–28)
- fortnightly visits from 28th week to 36th week of pregnancy
- weekly visits after 36th week until delivery (delivery at week 38–42)
- Assessment of parental needs and family dynamic
At the initial antenatal care visit and with the aid of a special booking checklist the pregnant women become classified into either normal risk or high risk.
Prenatal diagnosis or prenatal screening (note that "Prenatal Diagnosis" and "Prenatal Screening" refer to two different types of tests) is testing for diseases or conditions in a fetus or embryo before it is born. Obstetricians and midwives have the ability to monitor mother's health and prenatal development during pregnancy through series of regular check-ups.
Physical examinations generally consist of:
- Collection of (mother's) medical history
- Checking (mother's) blood pressure
- (Mother's) height and weight
- Pelvic exam
- Doppler fetal heart rate monitoring
- (Mother's) blood and urine tests
- Discussion with caregiver
Ultrasound Obstetric ultrasounds are most commonly performed during the second trimester at approximately week 20. Ultrasounds are considered relatively safe and have been used for over 35 years for monitoring pregnancy. Among other things, ultrasounds are used to:
- Diagnose pregnancy (uncommon)
- Check for multiple fetuses
- Assess possible risks to the mother (e.g., miscarriage, blighted ovum, ectopic pregnancy, or a molar pregnancy condition)
- Check for fetal malformation (e.g., club foot, spina bifida, cleft palate, clenched fists)
- Determine if an intrauterine growth retardation condition exists
- Note the development of fetal body parts (e.g., heart, brain, liver, stomach, skull, other bones)
- Check the amniotic fluid and umbilical cord for possible problems
- Determine due date (based on measurements and relative developmental progress)
Generally an ultrasound is ordered whenever an abnormality is suspected or along a schedule similar to the following:
- 7 weeks — confirm pregnancy, ensure that it's neither molar or ectopic, determine due date
- 13–14 weeks (some areas) — evaluate the possibility of Down Syndrome
- 18–20 weeks — see the expanded list above
- 34 weeks (some areas) — evaluate size, verify placental position
In the United States
Proper prenatal care affects all women of various social backgrounds. While availability of such services have considerable personal health and social benefits, socioeconomic problems prevent its universal adoption in both developing and developed nations, such as the US. Although women can benefit by utilizing prenatal care services, there exists various levels of health care accessibility between different demographics throughout the United States.
- Fiscella K (March 1995). "Does Prenatal Care Improve Birth Outcomes? A Critical Review". Obstetrics & Gynecology. 85 (3): 468–479. PMID 7862395. doi:10.1016/0029-7844(94)00408-6.
- Sheiner E, Hallak M, Twizer I, Mazor M, Katz M, Shoham-Vardi I (September 2001). "Lack of prenatal care in two different societies living in the same region and sharing the same medical facilities". J Obstet Gynaecol. 21 (5): 453–8. PMID 12521796. doi:10.1080/01443610120071974.
- Howard M, Sellors JW, Jang D, et al. (January 2003). "Regional distribution of antibodies to herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and HSV-2 in men and women in Ontario, Canada". J. Clin. Microbiol. 41 (1): 84–9. PMC . PMID 12517830. doi:10.1128/JCM.41.1.84-89.2003.
- "Prenatal Care - FAQs". Womenshealth.gov. April 2006. Archived from the original on 24 Oct 2008.