Prenatal care helps decrease risks during pregnancy and increases the chance of a safe and healthy delivery. Regular prenatal visits can help your doctor monitor your pregnancy and identify any problems or complications before they become serious.
Babies born to mothers who lack prenatal care have triple the chance of being born at a low birth weight. Newborns with low birth weight are five times more likely to die than those whose mothers received prenatal care.
Prenatal care ideally starts at least three months before you begin trying to conceive. Some healthy habits to follow during this period include:
- quitting smoking and drinking alcohol
- taking folic acid supplements daily (400 to 800 micrograms)
- talking to your doctor about your medical conditions, dietary supplements, and any over-the-counter or prescription drugs that you take
- avoiding all contact with toxic substances and chemicals at home or work that could be harmful
Once you become pregnant, you’ll need to schedule regular healthcare appointments throughout each stage of your pregnancy.
A schedule of visits may involve seeing your doctor:
- every month in the first six months you are pregnant
- every two weeks in the seventh and eighth months you are pregnant
- every week during your ninth month of pregnancy
During these visits, your doctor will check your health and the health of your baby.
Visits may include:
- taking routine tests and screenings, such as a blood test to check for anemia, HIV, and your blood type
- monitoring your blood pressure
- measuring your weight gain
- monitoring the baby’s growth and heart rate
- talking about special diet and exercise
Later visits may also include checking the baby’s position and noting changes in your body as you prepare for birth.
Your doctor may also offer special classes at different stages of your pregnancy.
These classes will:
- discuss what to expect when you are pregnant
- prepare you for the birth
- teach you basic skills for caring for your baby
If your pregnancy is considered high risk because of your age or health conditions, you may require more frequent visits and special care. You may also need to see a doctor who works with high-risk pregnancies.
While most attention to pregnancy care focuses on the nine months of pregnancy, postpartum care is important, too. The postpartum period lasts six to eight weeks, beginning right after the baby is born.
During this period, the mother goes through many physical and emotional changes while learning to care for her newborn. Postpartum care involves getting proper rest, nutrition, and vaginal care.
Getting Enough Rest
Rest is crucial for new mothers who need to rebuild their strength. To avoid getting too tired as a new mother, you may need to:
- sleep when your baby sleeps
- keep your bed near your baby’s crib to make night feedings easier
- allow someone else to feed the baby with a bottle while you sleep
Getting proper nutrition in the postpartum period is crucial because of the changes your body goes through during pregnancy and labor.
The weight that you gained during pregnancy helps make sure you have enough nutrition for breast-feeding. However, you need to continue to eat a healthy diet after delivery.
Experts recommend that breast-feeding mothers eat when they feel hungry. Make a special effort to focus on eating when you are actually hungry — not just busy or tired.
- avoid high-fat snacks
- focus on eating low-fat foods that balance protein, carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables
- drink plenty of fluids
New mothers should make vaginal care an essential part of their postpartum care. You may experience:
- vaginal soreness f you had a tear during delivery
- urination problems like pain or a frequent urge to urinate
- discharge, including small blood clots
- contractions during the first few days after delivery
Schedule a checkup with your doctor about six weeks after delivery to discuss symptoms and receive proper treatment. You should abstain from sexual intercourse for four to six weeks after delivery so that your vagina has proper time to heal.