Prenatal care is health care during
pregnancy before the baby is born. Prenatal care gives your doctor a chance
to find any problems early, so they can be treated as soon as possible. You
can also work with your doctor on preventing any complications for which
you or your baby might be at risk.
You should schedule a prenatal visit as soon as you
realize you are pregnant.
Prenatal care visits generally occur about once every 4
weeks during the first 6 months of pregnancy and then every 2 to 3 weeks
during the next 2 months, and then weekly until delivery.
At your first prenatal visit, your doctor will take
your health history and perform a physical examination including checking
your height, weight, and blood pressure. You will be checked for diseases
that could harm your baby (such as diabetes, hepatitis B, syphilis, and HIV
In later visits, your doctor will check on the growth
of your baby by measuring your abdomen. Your doctor may use ultrasound (sound wave) examinations to assess your
You will have tests at each prenatal visit to check for
high blood pressure and for protein in the urine, which could indicate a
problem with the pregnancy.
Take 400 micrograms of folic
acid (a B vitamin) each day. Folic acid has been shown to help
prevent birth defects. Start taking folic acid if you are thinking of
Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and
vegetables and get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day unless
otherwise instructed by your physician.
Tell your doctor about any medications you are taking
because some drugs are not safe to take during pregnancy.
Don't smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or take illegal
drugs. Alcohol has been linked to birth defects including fetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause mental
retardation. Smoking has been linked to low birth weight and heart problems
in babies. Use of illegal drugs can cause many problems, such as
infections, for the pregnant woman and developing baby.
American College of Obstetricians and
Gynecologists 800/762-2264 http://www.acog.org
The National Women's Health Information Center
To find this and other JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page
link on JAMA's Web site at
http://www.jama.com. A Patient Page on high blood pressure
during pregnancy was published in the March 28, 2001, issue; and one on
pregnancy tests was published in the October 10, 2001, issue.
Sources: American College of Obstetricians
and Gynecologists, American Academy of Family Physicians, The
National Women's Health Information Center
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations
appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they
are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information
concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA
suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied
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Parmet S, Lynm C, Glass RM. Prenatal Care. JAMA. 2004;291(1):146. doi:10.1001/jama.291.1.148