Prenatal care is what keeps you and your baby in good health during your pregnancy. Why is this important? Because a healthy pregnancy will influence your baby’s health in infancy as well as throughout its life.
One of the best ways of avoiding pregnancy complications is by getting good prenatal care. Pregnancy complications can cause end up hurting you and your baby. For example, gestational diabetes can increase your baby’s risk for type 2 diabetes and obesity in adulthood. It can increase even your risk for type 2 diabetes at a later stage in life. But if you are getting the prenatal care you need, there is a small chance that you will develop gestational diabetes; even if you do, it will be caught early on during one of your prenatal care visits to the doctor and easily remedied before it can do much damage.
So let’s take a look at what exactly constitutes prenatal care and what you will be expected to do during pregnancy to ensure that both you and your baby are happy and healthy.
What is Meant By Prenatal Care?
Prenatal care refers to any special measures for good health that you would take before and during your pregnancy but not at other times of your life. Prenatal care ranges from taking prenatal supplements and getting regular medical checkups to eating the right kind of pregnancy food and doing appropriate pregnancy exercises. Prenatal care may also include educating yourself about all aspects of your pregnancy so that you know what to expect at every stage.
The main goal of any prenatal care plan is to keep pregnancy complications at bay as much as possible. Many pregnancy complications are thankfully preventable today. A lot of progress has been made in identifying their causes and risk factors and thus coming up with effective preventive measures that are now incorporated by default into any prenatal care plan.
Prenatal care is all about you and your doctor doing all that you can to ensure a normal pregnancy and a healthy baby. So you should schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as you suspect you are pregnant or if a home pregnancy test confirms your pregnancy so that you can start getting prenatal care right away. And once pregnant, you should see your doctor on a regular basis. If your doctor sees you often and gets more familiar with you and your medical history, she will have an easier time noticing a problem. And a condition spotted early on is easier to fix.
Here are some statistics that should encourage any mother to get regular and quality prenatal care in the form of medical checkups, food, exercise and change in lifestyle habits. Research has shown that mothers who do not have a prenatal care plan or are getting inadequate prenatal care are three times more likely to have babies with low birth weight, which leads to several unpleasant complications for your baby, and up to five times more likely to die than those born to mothers who do follow a consistent prenatal care plan formulated by a medical professional. So the best gift you can give your unborn child is to develop a customized prenatal care plan with a good doctor and follow it to the T.
A medical checkup is just one small part of prenatal care. There are a few general aspects of prenatal care that are recommended for all mothers-to-be. However, keep in mind that nothing is set in stone; you may need a different prenatal care plan depending on your individual health and your family medical history. A prenatal care plan can change too depending on how your pregnancy is progressing. The following are just some factors of prenatal care that are prescribed for a normal pregnancy.
Prenatal care will include frequent visits to your doctor. You will probably get an appointment schedule at your first doctor’s visit. If yours is a normal pregnancy, you will be seeing your doctor at least once a month during the pregnancy first trimester and pregnancy second trimester for some routine prenatal care. In the seventh and eighth month, you will be called in to see your doctor once a fortnight, and the last month will have weekly visits. If you have certain pregnancy complications you may be called in more often depending on the kind of pregnancy complication you have and the prenatal care treatment or management techniques that have been recommended to bring it under control.
It is very important to stick to your appointments as your doctor may be able to detect a complication in your pregnancy early on and thus prevent it from getting worse. It is also important to keep track of how you feel and to relay the same to your doctor during your prenatal care visits. Something that you deem perfectly harmless may in fact be a symptom of some health problem which is not mentioned in all the pregnancy books you are reading.
Your prenatal care medical checkups will involve several physical exams and routine tests.
- A physical examination is a normal part of every medical checkup and a crucial aspect of prenatal care. Your doctor will check your weight to ensure that you are not gaining weight too fast or too slow. She will check your vagina and cervix for lumps or abnormalities – swabs may be taken for testing.
- Prenatal tests are the other part of your prenatal care package. Throughout your pregnancy, your doctor will have you undergo tests that check your blood and urine for abnormalities. Ultrasounds will help your doctor check the baby for abnormalities. If your doctor suspects that you or your baby are at high risk for a pregnancy complication or birth defect respectively, she may recommend a non-routine prenatal test such as amniocentesis.
Food and Nutrition:
After regular medical checkups, this is the most important part of prenatal care. What you eat during your pregnancy is what your baby eats too. So before you put anything into your mouth, think for a moment whether you would feed it to your baby. For example, caffeine is out, as are certain kinds of fish as they may contain mercury – one of the deadliest substances in the world. Check out what kinds of pregnancy food you should be having and what you should avoid. Seek advice from your doctor or a nutritionist; they can help you chart out a food plan and take the guessing out of the equation.
When you are pregnant, your body has additional nutrition requirements for the millions of detailed tasks it has to carry out. It is not always possible to get all your nutrition through food. As part of your prenatal plan, you will probably be prescribed prenatal vitamins to take on a daily basis throughout your pregnancy. Some of the most common ones are folic acid, iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acid. Do not take any supplements on your own without first consulting your doctor.
We should all be exercising everyday anyway. But not everyone is motivated enough to exercise regularly. Be that as it may, it will have to change when you are pregnant. You will need to exercise as part of your prenatal care plan whether you like it or not. If you are flinching at the thought of exercise, relax. Pregnancy exercise does not mean you have to go to a gym and lift weights for an hour or go running before the crack of dawn to train for a marathon. It simply means moving around a little more, taking a walk for maybe 20 to 30 minutes a day, going for a swim if you are lucky enough to have access to a pool, or doing some gentle yoga. If we were more active in our daily lives, we would not need to chalk out an exercise plan at all. However, most of us are quite lazy and will take the elevator even if we have to go up or down just one floor. Nodding your head in agreement? Consult your doctor about an exercise plan that takes into account your level of fitness and is safe for both you and your baby. Exercise is also a fantastic stress buster, and since cutting down on stress is another part of your prenatal care plan, you will be killing two birds with one stone.
Change in Level/Type of Activity:
Prenatal care may include avoiding some activities if you are one of that rare breed that did exercise or were highly active before you got pregnant. Any sport that could cause an injury is not OK. This rules out biking, horseback riding, skiing and some forms of aerobics where you could fall down, and most team sports as you could easily get run into by a team-mate. It is not advisable from the pregnancy second trimester onwards to lie on your back or stomach, which some forms of exercise like yoga or Pilates may call for. You must also avoid heavy lifting – so no spring cleaning in the attic and no gym machines for nine months. If you prefer cardiovascular activities, then ensure that your heartbeat remains below 140 a minute. Also ensure that you are always sufficiently hydrated as dehydration can cause some pregnancy complications.
Speaking of exercise, you can continue having sex during pregnancy but you may have to change a few things first. If you are experiencing certain pregnancy complications your doctor may recommend that you put off sex until the problem has been solved or until the baby is born. Your body is in a delicate state when you are pregnant, so follow your doctor’s advice.
Change in Habits:
You simply cannot smoke tobacco, do illicit drugs or drink alcohol during your pregnancy. This is as much a part of prenatal care as blood tests and ultrasounds. Smoking alone, even secondhand smoke, causes a host of pregnancy complications and harms your baby in more ways than you can imagine. It is a high risk factor for several pregnancy complications. Drinking alcohol and doing drugs have been known to cause abnormalities in babies. Even abusing over-the-counter drugs has some very nasty drawbacks. If you care even the slightest bit for your baby’s health, you should quit all three the moment you learn that you are pregnant, and ideally months before you plan a baby. Even a history of alcohol, drugs and smoking is a risk factor for complications during pregnancy. Consult your doctor about continuing any medication that you are already on, and even if you are planning to pop a non-prescription pill for a headache.
Reduce Stress Levels:
Your mental state affects your pregnancy just as much as your physical health does. It is not uncommon for pregnant women who are stressed or emotionally burdened to experience several pregnancy complications like high blood pressure or miscarriage. It is thus very important to think about prenatal care for your mental state too. If you live or work in a stressful environment, try to avoid the people who stress you out or limit your interaction with them. If this is not a possibility, then figure out a way to change the dynamic of the relationship so that it is easier for you to deal with. Make sure that you get some time to yourself every day where you can just be alone and indulge in activities that you enjoy or simply do nothing. Do some simple meditation, spend time with people you enjoy being with, and learn to enjoy your pregnancy.
This may not sound like prenatal care, but your sleeping patterns are indeed important when you are pregnant. Sound sleep helps to alleviate stress. It also gives your body the time it needs to unwind and rejuvenate. Since your organs are overloaded with work during pregnancy, they will be grateful if you sleep well as that is when they get to wind down too. Sleep also affects your weight, your emotions, and your energy levels through the day. You may not sleep very well when you are pregnant, a common complaint from mothers-to-be. Speak to your doctor about medication or home remedies.
You probably did not expect this to be on a prenatal care plan but it is recommended. Learn as much as you can about being pregnant, what you can expect, labor and delivery, and the symptoms of pregnancy complications so you can alert your doctor if you experience any. If this is your first baby, it may be a good idea to look up baby care classes that teach you everything from feeding to swaddling. A Lamaze class would not be amiss either.
Other Prenatal Care Tips To Keep In Mind
- Keep away from substances like insecticides, paint, and solvents as they contain toxic chemicals. Also avoid being around machines that emit radiation. This includes x-ray machines.
- Be more careful when you are pregnant. Safety first should be your motto. A fall or a hard bump on the abdomen could result in a tragedy.
- Avoid hot tubs and saunas.