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JAMA Patient Page
January 7, 2004

Prenatal Care

JAMA. 2004;291(1):146. doi:10.1001/jama.291.1.148

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 infection).

  • 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 baby's growth.

  • 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 getting pregnant.

  • 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.



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 noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject to AMA approval. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.