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doctor listening to a pregnant woman's belly with stethoscope

Prenatal Care

doctor listening to a pregnant woman's belly with stethoscope

If you’re facing an unplanned pregnancy, you might have some lifestyle changes to make. One of the most important things you can do is ensure you and your baby stay healthy throughout your pregnancy.

Prenatal care refers to the care of yourself and your unborn baby throughout your pregnancy. Here’s a general overview of prenatal care.

Going to the Doctor

Once you’ve found out you’re pregnant, make an appointment to see a doctor as soon as possible. A doctor who specializes in women’s reproductive health, pregnancy, and childbirth is called a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology, or an OB/GYN. If you already have a gynecologist, he or she can provide you with prenatal care. If you don’t have a gynecologist or would prefer a different doctor, we can give you information about how to find a doctor in your area.

At your first appointment, your doctor will confirm your pregnancy, determine your due date, learn about your health and medical history, perform a pelvic exam, and answer any questions you have. Some doctors will perform an ultrasound as well.

For the first seven months of your pregnancy, you’ll see your doctor once a month. During your seventh and eighth months, you’ll see your doctor every two weeks. In your ninth month, you’ll see your doctor every week until your baby is born.

The purpose of each appointment is to assess the progress of your pregnancy and your baby’s growth and development. Typically, at each appointment your doctor will weigh you, measure your belly to check your baby’s growth, listen for the baby’s heartbeat, check your blood pressure and other vitals, and perform a urine test and any other exams and tests as needed. It’s very important to go to all your scheduled prenatal appointments, even if you’re feeling fine and believe everything is progressing normally.

Nutrition and Exercise During Pregnancy

Staying healthy during your pregnancy involves eating right and making sure your body and your baby are getting all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals they need. The first step to good nutrition during pregnancy is to take prenatal vitamins. Prenatal vitamins are specially formulated for pregnant women. Your baby experiences the most growth and development during the first trimester, so start taking prenatal vitamins as soon as possible. As far as your diet goes, try your best to eat a variety of healthy foods and drink plenty of water.

Exercise and physical activity during pregnancy might seem intimidating or difficult, especially as your baby and your belly grow, but it has many benefits. It reduces the likelihood of pre-term birth, gestational diabetes, and postpartum depression. It can also help relieve stress and build stamina to help your labor and delivery go smoothly. Talk to your doctor about what exercises and physical activities are safe for you during your pregnancy.

Sickness and Medication During Pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, your immune system changes. It becomes harder for your body to fight off illness, especially the flu and foodborne illnesses. Because you’re at a higher risk of developing these illnesses and because they can affect the health of your baby, it’s important to take extra precautions against them during your pregnancy.

In pregnant women, the flu can cause severe illness, hospitalization, and even death. Their babies can develop serious problems as well. Ask your doctor whether it’s an appropriate time of year for you to get a flu vaccine. The vaccine also protects your baby from the flu virus during and after pregnancy.

Foodborne illness (food poisoning) is caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins. In pregnant women, foodborne illness can cause serious health problems and even death. There are many foods pregnant women should avoid to reduce their risk of foodborne illness. Learn more on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website.

Substance Abuse During Pregnancy

Substance abuse of any kind can be extremely harmful for your unborn baby. Remember that everything you ingest is also ingested by your baby. The life-threatening health problems associated with these substances can also be passed to your baby.

Caffeine

Caffeine can negatively affect your baby’s heart rate. It can also cause low birth weight, which can increase the risk of health problems later in life. So it’s best to totally eliminate your caffeine consumption. If you’re having trouble breaking that habit, some doctors allow you to have one or two caffeinated beverages a day. Ask your doctor what’s best for you and your baby.

Alcohol

Drinking any amount of alcohol during pregnancy can cause birth defects. It can also cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Symptoms of FAS include mental retardation, developmental delays, speech and language delays, abnormal facial features, small head size, seizures, and many other complications.

Smoking

Smoking while pregnant can cause your baby to develop a heart defect. Heart defects can lead to a lifetime of disabilities or even death. Smoking while pregnant can also cause malnourishment, premature delivery, and cleft palate.

Drugs

Pregnant women who use drugs — legal and illegal — often give birth to babies that suffer from physical, mental, and developmental problems; birth defects; brain damage; heart defects; and even death. Many regular over-the-counter medications are not safe to take during pregnancy because they can cause significant harm to your unborn baby. These include most pain relievers, cold and flu medications, allergy medications, and others. Talk to your doctor about what medications are considered safe for you to take. If you’re unsure whether a particular medication is safe, contact your doctor before you take it.

Given all these risks, the best thing to do is entirely avoid all these substances during your pregnancy. If you’re having trouble giving up any of these substances, seek help immediately. You can talk to your doctor or a trusted friend or family member, or you can always reach out to us — we’re here to help.

If you decide to put your baby up for adoption, you may be eligible to receive financial support for your prenatal care expenses where permissible under state law. Our dedicated adoption specialists will help you create a plan to ensure all your medical bills and expenses are covered. To learn more, see our Financial Support page or call us at 1-888-378-1112.