What to Expect at Prenatal Visits


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During the 40 weeks a woman is pregnant, she will have numerous visits with her OB/GYN or other health care provider. Doctors perform various tests, check the baby’s growth, and answer questions. Doctors throughout the country follow the same pregnancy timeline to ensure that the baby’s and the mother’s health is maintained and any issues are discovered as early as possible.

First Things First: Finding The Right Doctor For You

Before discussing what to expect during prenatal visits, we need to stress the importance of finding the right OB/GYN for you. It’s a critical decision that you should take seriously. Start by compiling a list of possible candidates in your area. One helpful tip is to ask friends or family for recommendations. From there, do your research. Search online healthcare directories and read reviews.

When you narrow the field, you should meet with the finalists and treat it as an interview. Come prepared with many questions to explore their medical education and training, how long they have practiced, and how many babies they have delivered. This will give you a sense of them as doctors and a glimpse of them as humans. In the end, trust your instincts. You should feel comfortable with your choice; if you don't, move on until you do.

What Happens At Your First Prenatal Visit?

After a thorough medical history is collected during the initial appointment, expectant mothers undergo a comprehensive physical exam, including a breast and pelvic exam (typically including a pap test) and standard urine and blood tests. The blood tests confirm the pregnancy and check for anemia (when blood has too few red blood cells).

Doctors and nurses will ask many questions and explain what mothers can expect throughout the first trimester and the rest of their pregnancies, including which prenatal tests will be performed and when. Typically, there is ample time for mothers to ask all the questions they have about pregnancy and for doctors to uncover any present risk factors.

What Pregnant Women Can Expect At Other Prenatal Visits

A pregnant woman should expect to have her weight recorded, her blood pressure checked, and a urine sample taken at each prenatal care appointment. While weight gain is a given during pregnancy, gaining too much weight can result in issues for both the mother and baby. The possible consequences include high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia. Urine samples can also indicate several problems, so doctors will test it each week for protein, sugar, and evidence of an infection. It is also important to note that if a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and protein in her urine after week 20 of the pregnancy, it could be a sign of preeclampsia.

The doctor will also check the fetal heart rate to ensure it is in the proper range at each appointment. Typically, this starts early in the pregnancy since a Doppler can pick up a baby's heartbeat from around eight weeks. When situations call for it, a complete blood count may be ordered anytime during pregnancy. If pregnant women are not already vaccinated with the hepatitis B vaccine, they should be vaccinated during pregnancy. It is safe for the baby to do so.

Most OB/GYN practices will perform an ultrasound as early as possible, within the first 12 weeks. The ultrasound is to verify that it is a viable pregnancy and establish the due date. According to the ACOG (The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), the only ultrasound that is actually required is referred to as the “anatomy scan.” This ultrasound should be completed early in the second trimester, around 20 to 24 weeks during pregnancy. The baby’s position and size, placenta location, and amniotic fluid amount are all checked during this ultrasound. Additionally, the ultrasound tech also looks for any structural abnormalities of the fetus. The brain, face, skeletal structures, internal organs, and extremities are all evaluated at this point.

At prenatal appointments after 20 weeks, doctors begin to measure the expectant mother’s fundal height, the distance from the pubic bone to the top of the uterus. This is measured in centimeters and will typically match the number of weeks that a woman is pregnant. For instance, if a patient is 32 weeks pregnant, her fundal height will likely be around 32 centimeters. The fundal height measurement can also be an indicator of certain conditions. If it measures much larger or smaller than expected, it could be a sign of too much amniotic fluid, not enough amniotic fluid, rapid fetal growth, slow fetal growth, or uterine fibroids. It can also be a sign that the baby is moving into a breech or other presentation that is not ideal for a routine vaginal delivery.

What Questions Should You Ask At Prenatal Visits?

At each prenatal appointment with her OB/GYN, a pregnant woman should always have an opportunity to present any questions she has. Common questions initially include:

  • How much weight should I expect to gain?
  • Can I continue exercising?
  • What types of medications can I take?
  • Is it safe to have sex while I am pregnant?

Later in the pregnancy, in the second or third trimester, questions may evolve to things like:

  • How far along can I fly?
  • Will I be able to deliver my baby vaginally?

Even what seems like a basic question could make a huge difference in how the pregnancy and delivery turn out. Most importantly, if a healthcare provider ever dismisses a patient’s questions or fails to answer properly, it is time to find a new OB/GYN.

Prenatal visits with an OB/GYN are a significant part of every woman’s pregnancy. To help support a healthy pregnancy and a safe delivery, it is important to ensure the proper care is received and questions are answered.

What Happens When Doctors Don’t Provide Acceptable Prenatal Care?

If you or your loved one didn’t receive proper prenatal care, and you or your baby suffered injury as a result, it may be a case of medical malpractice or birth injury. Doctors are required to provide you with an acceptable standard of care, including answering questions properly. If they violate that standard, you may be able to file a claim against the responsible parties and receive compensation for your injuries.

The knowledgeable and compassionate medical malpractice attorneys at Ross Feller Casey have the qualifications and resources to help you and your family get the compensation you deserve. We work hard for our clients and have established a proven track record of winning record-setting verdicts and settlements to help ease their financial burden. We are here to help you, too.

Our medical malpractice cases are always handled on a contingency basis, so you don’t pay a cent until we win your case. Contact Ross Feller Casey today to schedule your free case review.

About the Author

A leading physician and national medical expert, Dr. Charles H. Bowers, Jr., joined Ross Feller Casey’s Medical Forensic Evaluations Department in 2012.

Charles Bowers

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