Antenatal Care When You Are Pregnant
‘Antenatal’ means before you give birth. Therefore, antenatal care is about looking after yourself before your baby is born. It includes care while you are pregnant as well as before you conceive, if possible. If you are in good health when you become pregnant and you stay healthy throughout your pregnancy, your baby has a better chance of being born healthy.
When you become pregnant, there are several important things you must know, including what to expect at antenatal appointments and the screening that will take place throughout your pregnancy.
Before You Become Pregnant
Ideally, before you become pregnant you will be leading a healthy lifestyle, eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet, and you will be within the parameters of the ideal weight for your age and height.
Talk to a medical professional if you are unsure about anything concerning your health. Check with your doctor to make sure you do not have any medical conditions that could affect your unborn baby and confirm that you are not taking any medication that could harm your unborn baby if you’re not sure.
Find out if your vaccinations are up to date and take folic acid supplements. Folic acid is vital for your baby’s developing brain and spinal cord.
You will need to talk to your doctor or midwife if you take any medication and ask them what options are open to you. Some medication is safe to take while you are pregnant and breastfeeding, and some is not. You should also talk to your doctor or midwife if you drink alcohol, smoke, or use recreational drugs. These are behaviors that could harm your baby and it’s important to seek advice as early as possible. It’s essential that you get advice to protect your and your baby's health.
If you are in an abusive relationship, you must speak to a professional who you trust as soon as possible.
Your First Antenatal Visit
When you are about 8 to 12 weeks pregnant, you will need an appointment with your doctor or midwife. This will be your first antenatal appointment. It is also called your ‘booking’ visit. During this appointment, you will have a thorough health assessment and your doctor or midwife will ask you about your medical history and your family’s medical history.
Also at this appointment, you will discuss who will be your lead carer and where you will go for your antenatal care. You will discuss antenatal classes or education and the choices that are open to you depending on your situation and where you live. You will also talk about your schedule of planned antenatal visits and where you plan to give birth. If you have any questions, you can raise them at your appointment.
If, like many women, you have an uncomplicated pregnancy, you will have around 8 to 10 antenatal appointments during your pregnancy. If you have a more complicated or high-risk pregnancy, you may require more antenatal visits. This will depend on whether there is any risk to the health of you or your baby at any time during your pregnancy. Your health professional will let you know what appointments you need depending on your individual circumstances.
Tests and Screening During Your Pregnancy
You will be offered screening tests to establish whether there is a risk of you or your baby having a problem or health condition. Usually, a simple test is carried out first and then your doctor will tell you if you need more tests depending on those results. Some tests will only be needed if your doctor determines that there is a risk of a certain infection or condition.
Blood tests are carried out to test for antibodies, anemia and to determine your blood group. If you are anemic, and this is common in pregnant women, your medical professional will advise you about what to do about your iron deficiency. If you are Rhesus negative, steps may need to be taken to prevent hemolytic disease of your baby. You will also be given the opportunity to have a blood test to test for infections such as rubella, syphilis, hepatitis B and C, and HIV.
Your urine is tested by your doctor or midwife to find out if you might have an infection or kidney disease. A urine test will also detect the presence of protein, sugar or blood. You will be checked for these indicators throughout your pregnancy. If your doctor or midwife finds any problems, they will contact you to advise you on what you need to do next.
An ultrasound is a non-invasive-scan of your abdomen. It will give an accurate representation of your baby’s development, detect any fetal conditions, reveal whether or not there is a multiple pregnancy, and determine the date your baby is due. Most women have one ultrasound scan during their pregnancy.
Tests for genetic conditions such as Down Syndrome will only be carried out if necessary. Your doctor or midwife will advise you whether you need any genetic tests depending on your family and medical history and your individual circumstances.
Subsequent Antenatal Appointments
When you are 24 weeks into your pregnancy, you will have more frequent antenatal appointments. At each visit, your doctor or midwife will usually check the position and size of your baby, listen to the heartbeat, and monitor your blood pressure. At around 26 to 28 weeks, you may be offered a test for gestational diabetes and you will need a blood test for a full blood examination.
During your antenatal appointments, you can discuss any concerns you have about your pregnancy, your baby, or the birth. If there is anything you don’t understand or you are not sure about, you can ask your doctor or midwife. It’s important that you are as relaxed as possible and you know what to look out for as your pregnancy progresses.
Also at your antenatal appointments, you can discuss any health concerns that are bothering you and ask any questions that you have. These could include lifestyle choices such as your current work or employment, when to take maternity leave, travel plans you might have or want to make, your diet, or any discomfort you might be experiencing such as nausea or constipation.
If you experience any of the following, let your doctor or midwife know right away:
• Vaginal bleeding
• You think your water has broken or membranes have ruptured
• Decreased movements of your baby
• Severe, constant pain
• Severe headache or blurred vision
• Trauma to your abdomen, including a fall, a car accident, or a blow to your stomach.