Discovering you are pregnant can bring a wave of emotions â€” and a lot of questions as you leap into the unknown (even if this isn’t your first pregnancy, everyone is different, right?).
And if this is your first pregnancy (or it’s been a while since your last), close to the top of that list of questions might be what will happen at your first prenatal appointment.
Well, step (or rather scroll) this way, because we’ve got the lowdown on what to expect…
Why do you need prenatal appointments?
Health and well-being checks are offered to everyone who’s pregnant â€” it’s an opportunity for your health care provider to check the health of you and your baby and to carry out tests and screenings.
It’s not only about your baby though, prenatal appointments are a moment for you too, giving you an opportunity to ask your very own expert any questions or concerns you might have.
In a sea of information overload (thank you internet, friends, and family) think of your health care provider as your North Star.
How often will you have prenatal appointments (checks)?
You will need to book your first prenatal appointment with your health care provider, and they will tell you how to schedule further checks.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), for a straightforward first pregnancy (in the U.S.), you can usually expect appointments:
Week 28 to weeks 36 â€” every two weeks
Week 36 until birth â€” every week
However, this is just a guide (and will depend on where you live).
You might have more appointments, and if you do, try not to worry. There are lots of reasons you could be asked to come in for extra prenatal appointments-from carrying twins to pre-existing health problems or issues in a previous pregnancy.
Take your health care provider’s lead and share any concerns you have with them (remember: North Star!).
They will also be able to tell you how the pandemic could if at all, affect your prenatal appointments.
What will happen at your first prenatal appointment?
Think of this as housekeeping for you/your baby â€” building a profile of your health and laying the groundwork for the following months.
Your health care provider will take your medical history, check your blood pressure, and measure your weight and height to ensure your baby is growing normally at each stage of pregnancy.
Your urine will be screened for urinary tract infections, glucose (high levels can indicate diabetes), and protein levels (to check for signs of preeclampsia â€” a pregnancy-specific condition).
Blood tests will look for signs of anemia, confirm your blood type, and check for diseases such as rubella, hepatitis, HIV, and sexually transmitted infections.
This might all sound overwhelming, but remember these are standard tests, offered to everyone â€” and it’s your choice whether you have them. Plus, if any issues do show up, you’ll be in safe hands to tackle them.
Your health care provider will also recommend a Pap smear if you haven’t had one recently and talk you through the tests and screenings you’ll be offered later in the pregnancy.
What will happen in your next prenatal appointments?
You will have a lot of appointments during your 40 weeks (or more), and their format will depend on where you’re at in your pregnancy.
However, at every prenatal appointment, you can expect to have your blood pressure and weight checked.
After 10-12 weeks, your health care provider â€” and you! â€” will listen to your baby’s heartbeat with a small machine called a doppler. This is to check that your baby’s heartbeat is within the normal range (usually between 110 to 160 beats a minute, although this can vary, and it doesn’t always mean something is wrong).
When will you find out your baby’s due date?
Babies have a habit of arriving in their own time, but an expected due date can still be thrilling â€” if slightly daunting – thing to look forward to (even if you do sail right past it when the time comes).
You will be given a tentative expected due date at your first appointment, but that will be based on your last period. To get a more accurate idea, your due date will be recalculated with the measurements taken at your first-trimester ultrasound, which is usually between 11 weeks –14 weeks.
If you had IVF, the expected due date will be set by the age of the embryo and the date it was transferred to your uterus.
When will you have ultrasound scans?
Ultrasounds are a window into your uterus, allowing your doctor to check your baby’s development, take measurements, listen to their heartbeat, and detect abnormalities.
Because of this, these appointments can feel as scary as they are exciting, but try to hold onto the latter.
In a typical, low-risk pregnancy, most people are offered two scans: one in your first trimester â€” to estimate your due date, screen for certain genetic disorders, check the baby’s heart rate, and count the number of fetuses (yes, that means twins, triplets, or even more) â€” and one at 18 weeks –22 weeks to confirm your baby’s anatomy is developing as expected and the sex of the baby (which you can choose not to find out).
What screenings and tests will you be offered to check your baby’s health?
There’s a difference between screenings and tests: Screenings will tell you if your baby has a high risk of having a particular genetic disorder, while a diagnostic test will tell you if they definitely have it or not.
While these tests can sometimes feel unsettling â€” and FYI it’s entirely your choice whether to do them â€” they can be valuable because they help you make choices about care and treatment during and after your pregnancy.
Along with the blood tests mentioned above, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG also recommends that all pregnant people are offered screening tests for Down syndrome, Patau’s Syndrome (a genetic disorder also known as trisomy 13 and trisomy 18), and neural tube defects.
Depending on the results of the screenings, you may then be offered diagnostic testing to get a clearer picture (as well as plenty of support and advice, of course).
What Immunizations will be offered during prenatal appointments?
You’ll be offered vaccinations for flu, tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, and, these days, COVID-19.
Do you have to have prenatal appointments?
Your prenatal appointments and tests are designed to help monitor the health of you and your baby, but you can’t be forced to attend any of them.
If you’re feeling unsure about any of the checks or screenings or would like more information on them, speak with your health care provider. They can give you the lowdown, answer any questions, and put your mind at rest about anything that seems scary â€” or just downright confusing.
Remember, there’s no such thing as a stupid question!