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What Should I Expect at a Prenatal Check up?

A prenatal check up provides your doctor the chance to check on the health of you and your baby, and to answer any questions that you may have. To assess your health, your doctor typically will check blood pressure, weight, and collect a urine sample. You'll also usually get a Pap smear to check for any cervical abnormalities. After the second trimester, the doctor will listen for the baby's heartbeat and feel your stomach to check how the baby is positioned. Doctors also take this time to remind you about eating and lifestyle habits that may be harmful to you and your baby. You will also be informed of what changes you can expect to see as your pregnancy progresses.

The first prenatal check up is generally scheduled within the first eight weeks of pregnancy. Although there will be several more check ups, this one usually has the most ground to cover and may take longer than other appointments. At this appointment, your doctor may take some extra time to review your medical history so as to assess whether or not your pregnancy needs special monitoring due to any adverse health risks. The doctor will also ask you to be honest about any habits you have that could affect your pregnancy, such as drinking and smoking. For the health of you and your baby, you will also be encouraged to begin taking prenatal vitamins.

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By the first prenatal check up, the fetus will still be too small to see clearly with an ultrasound or to hear a heartbeat. A doctor may, however, be able to offer you the option of having early screening tests that could give you an idea of whether or not your fetus might be at risk for birth and chromosomal defects. Although the fetus is too small to see, hear, or feel, you will begin having your stomach measured. It will be measured at every appointment to help track your pregnancy's progress.

The next prenatal check up you go to will likely be in the second trimester, which spans from weeks 13-27 of your pregnancy. During this time, you will attend several prenatal check ups—about one a month. After or even just before week 13, you'll be able to listen to your baby's heartbeat, which will become a regular part of every prenatal check up thereafter. As the months progress, the baby will grow large enough to detect by ultrasound, giving you the first visual of your baby.

The ultrasound usually happens around 20 weeks, unless doctors order one earlier for fear of complications. Doctors look at the ultrasound to make sure the baby looks healthy and to get a better idea of when the baby might be born. This is also an opportunity for curious parents to find out the sex of the baby.

Around this time, doctors may have you undergo a blood test to check for gestational diabetes if your urine samples contain excess amounts of sugar. Doctors may also check for gestational diabetes if your blood pressure is abnormally high. Gestational diabetes is a kind of diabetes that develops during pregnancy and usually goes away afterward. It can be very dangerous to mother and child, possibly leading to preeclampsia, which is characterized by life-threatening blood pressure levels. Gestational diabetes is usually very manageable if monitored properly.

Third-trimester prenatal check ups are typically scheduled every two weeks from weeks 27 to the time you deliver your baby. Your doctor will begin discussing how to prepare for labor as well as for the possibility of preterm labor. You may also be asked to provide a birth plan, which tells your doctor how you would like your delivery to go—for example, whether you would like an epidural or if you'd prefer a more natural labor. This is also a time during which you may receive pre-labor medication to ensure the baby's safety during labor, such as an injection of Rh immune globulin.

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