Pregnancy Guide and FAQ

First Steps

Medical checkups and screening tests help keep you and your baby healthy during pregnancy. This is called prenatal care. It also involves education and counseling about how to handle different aspects of your pregnancy. During your visits, your doctor may discuss many issues, such as healthy eating and physical activity, screening tests you might need, and what to expect during labor and delivery.

Choosing a Prenatal Care Provider

Health care providers that care for women during pregnancy include:

  • Obstetricians (OB) are medical doctors who specialize in the care of pregnant women and in delivering babies. OBs also have special training in surgery so they are also able to do a cesarean delivery. Women who have health problems or are at risk for pregnancy complications should see an obstetrician. Women with the highest risk pregnancies might need special care from a maternal-fetal medicine specialist.
  • Family practice doctors are medical doctors who provide care for the whole family through all stages of life. This includes care during pregnancy and delivery, and following birth. Most family practice doctors cannot perform cesarean deliveries.

Prenatal Checkups

During pregnancy, regular checkups are very important. This consistent care can help keep you and your baby healthy, spot problems if they occur, and prevent problems during delivery. Typically, routine checkups occur:

  • Once each month for weeks four through 28
  • Twice a month for weeks 28 through 36
  • Weekly for weeks 36 to birth

Women with high-risk pregnancies need to see their doctors more often.

At your first visit your doctor will perform a full physical exam, take your blood for lab tests, and calculate your due date. Your doctor might also do a breast exam, a pelvic exam to check your uterus (womb), and a cervical exam, including a Pap test. During this first visit, your doctor will ask you lots of questions about your lifestyle, relationships, and health habits. It's important to be honest with your doctor. After the first visit, most prenatal visits will include:

  • Checking your blood pressure and weight
  • Checking the baby's heart rate
  • Measuring your abdomen to check your baby's growth

You also will have some routine tests throughout your pregnancy, such as tests to look for anemia, tests to measure risk of gestational diabetes, and tests to look for harmful infections.

Become a partner with your doctor to manage your care. Keep all of your appointments - every one is important! Ask questions and read to educate yourself about this exciting time.

Monitor Your Baby's Activity

After 28 weeks, keep track of your baby's movement. This will help you to notice if your baby is moving less than normal, which could be a sign that your baby is in distress and needs a doctor's care. An easy way to do this is the "count-to-10" approach. Count your baby's movements in the evening - the time of day when the fetus tends to be most active. Lie down if you have trouble feeling your baby move. Most women count 10 movements within about 20 minutes. But it is rare for a woman to count less than 10 movements within two hours at times when the baby is active. Count your baby's movements every day so you know what is normal for you. Call your doctor if you count less than 10 movements within two hours or if you notice your baby is moving less than normal. If your baby is not moving at all, call your doctor right away.

Five Ways to Have a Healthy Pregnancy and Baby

  1. See a doctor or other health care provider from the start of your pregnancy.
  2. Don't drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or take drugs.
  3. Eat healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk, eggs, cheese, and grains.
  4. Take good care of your health and exercise sensibly.
  5. Have your baby checked by a doctor or health care provider right after birth and throughout childhood.

Questions and Answers

What is prenatal care? Prenatal care is medical attention given to the expectant mother and her developing baby. It also involves the mother's caring for herself by following her health care provider's advice, practicing good nutrition, getting plenty of rest, exercising sensibly, and avoiding things that could harm her or her baby.

Why is prenatal care important? Habits that may not harm an adult may still harm your baby's development. Remember that your child's health begins long before it is born. Through proper prenatal care, you can reduce your baby's risk for health problems.

Is smoking bad for my baby? A pregnant smoker is at a higher risk for problems in her pregnancy. Babies born to mothers who smoke have a lower average birthweight, an increased rate of premature birth, and are at greater risk of death from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), than babies of nonsmokers. Studies show that women who quit smoking early in their pregnancies can reduce the risk of damage to their babies. Even quitting in the last month of pregnancy can help your baby by increasing the amount of oxygen available to him/her during delivery.

Will alcohol harm my baby? There is no guaranteed safe level of alcohol consumption if you are pregnant. Any alcohol you drink enters both yours and your baby's bloodstream. Alcohol use during pregnancy may cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS babies may suffer from physical, behavioral, and mental problems.

Should I avoid taking medicine? Don't take any medication without first consulting your health care provider. Even over-the-counter medication-for example, antihistamines or pain medications that contain aspirin or ibuprofen-can be harmful to a developing baby.

Be careful about vitamins. Take the prenatal vitamins prescribed or recommended by your health care provider, but don't take any additional vitamins on your own. Although you need more of some things, like iron, calcium, and folate, too much of other nutrients can harm your baby.

What foods should I eat? A healthy baby starts with healthy food. When you are pregnant, everything you eat or drink nourishes your baby, too. That's why it's important to eat healthy foods. A pregnant woman only needs about 300 extra calories a day to meet her needs and give her baby the necessary nutrients. Therefore, your goal should be to eat highly nutritious foods while avoiding excessive calories, fat, sugar, and sodium.

Do I need to see a health care provider before pregnancy? All women of childbearing age are encouraged to visit a health care provider annually. See your health care provider immediately if you suspect you are pregnant.

Do my baby and I need to see a health care provider after delivery? Yes, following your pregnancy, it's important to make and keep your health care appointments for both you and your baby.

Where can I find health care and social services? There are many free or low-cost services for pregnant women and their babies. For more information, call 1-800-311-BABY (1-800-311-2229). For information in Spanish, call 1-800-504-7081.

You also may find services through the following places:

  • Hospitals
  • Churches
  • Doctors' offices
  • Other human service programs
  • State or local health departments

Health Resources