There are very few experiences in life that are more miraculous than giving birth.
However, the joys of bringing life into the world are accompanied by the reality of potential complications for expectant mothers and their babies.
Many health complications during and after pregnancy can be prevented with the right pre and post-natal care.
Despite our knowledge of this, maternal deaths have increased in the U.S. over time.
To lower the risk of health complications during or after pregnancy, it’s important to take care of your health before and after you give birth.
Prenatal care should begin as soon as you find out you’re pregnant.
If you’re actively trying to get pregnant, it doesn’t hurt to start prenatal care even before your pregnancy is confirmed by your doctor.
On a similar note, the postnatal period is something you should plan for before you give birth. Having a baby brings many physical, social, and psychological changes — receiving the right postnatal care can help lower the risk of complications that can come from these changes, such as postpartum depression, postpartum hemorrhage, infections, and blood clots.
To ensure the well-being of both you and your baby at all stages of pregnancy, keep reading this guide from USA Rx — we’ll go over everything you need to know about prenatal and postnatal care.
What Happens During Prenatal Care?
Prenatal care should begin as soon as you discover that you’re pregnant.
If you’re actively trying to get pregnant, then you can start good prenatal care even before an at-home test or in-clinic confirms your pregnancy.
Prenatal care looks just a little different for all pregnant women.
That said, some essential elements should be present in everyone’s prenatal wellness plan.
Here’s what your doctor may do as part of your prenatal care:
1. Perform a Physical Exam
As soon as you discover that you’re pregnant, you should make an appointment to see your primary health care provider or obstetrician for a physical exam.
During your initial physical exam, your doctor will usually:
- Confirm your pregnancy with a blood test
- Calculate your due date based on your last menstrual cycle
- Check your weight, height, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure
- Check for infections via a urine sample
- Ask about your medical history, including previous pregnancies
- Ask about your family health history
- Ask about your lifestyle, which includes history of smoking, diet, exercise, sleep, and stress levels
Your initial physical is also a chance for you to ask questions. Keep a running list of questions to ask your doctor as they arise.
If you are physically active, you should ask your doctor about what level of physical activity is best during your pregnancy.
An appropriate exercise program during pregnancy can have many health benefits. One example is pelvic floor exercises, which can help reduce back pain.
Your doctor may suggest working with a personal trainer who specializes in training pregnant clients.
A trainer can help you find a variety of exercises that are safe for you and your baby, ranging through personal training routines involving pilates, aerobics, or even low-impact strength training.
After you give birth, they can also help with postnatal exercises.
After your initial checkup, you should see your OB/GYN about once every month until you get to the 28th week of your pregnancy.
From weeks 28-36, you should generally check in with your doctor twice a month. After 36 weeks, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor once each week.
If you have any questions or concerns during your pregnancy, don’t hesitate to call your OB/GYN — they are there to guide you and make sure your pregnancy goes smoothly.
2. Check for Complications
Your doctor should do a thorough medical evaluation and ask about your medical history to see if there are any risk factors that could lead to complications.
If there’s a family history of genetic disorders, then your doctor might offer to test for chromosomal concerns.
3. Provide Nutrition Counseling
Because there are so many nutrients you need at specific levels to support your baby’s development, your doctor may provide you with nutrition counseling.
Your doctor may also recommend that you take prenatal vitamin supplements, which can give you an extra boost of vitamins essential during pregnancy, like iron, vitamin D, folic acid, and calcium.
If you follow a special diet, like a plant-based or dairy-free diet, it’s important to consult with your doctor to make sure your baby’s nutritional needs are met through the pregnancy and breastfeeding stage.
4. Ultrasound Tests
An ultrasound is typically done between 18-20 weeks into the pregnancy. These are done to check the baby’s age, gender, heart rate, and position.
It can also reveal any possible congenital disabilities or high-risk health conditions during development.
5. Fundal Height Measurement
About 24 weeks into the pregnancy, your doctor can begin to measure fundal height, which looks at the size of your abdomen.
This is done to check if the baby is growing smaller or larger than expected, since weight gain can’t quite be measured in-utero.
If the baby is smaller or larger than expected, it could indicate a potential complication, such as slow fetal growth or too much (or too little) amniotic fluid.
In some cases, large fundal height could indicate multiple pregnancies.
What Happens During Postnatal Care?
Postnatal care begins immediately after you give birth. Your first postnatal care visit should happen within three weeks of giving birth to your baby.
Your doctor can provide you with a 12-week postnatal care plan at your initial appointment.
Here is what your doctor will do during your postnatal care plan:
1. Perform a Physical Exam
During your initial postnatal care visit, your doctor will fully assess your physical and psychological health.
You’ll be asked about your general mood and how you’re adjusting to being a new mother.
You will also be given a full physical examination to see how you’re recovering from childbirth. If you had a C-section, your doctor will check the incision to see how well you are healing.
It’s expected for new mothers to experience vaginal soreness, breast tenderness, hair loss, and skin problems.
However, your doctor can still advise you on how to deal with these undesirable changes.
2. Advise on Infant Care
Your doctor is also likely to provide you with advice on how to care for your newborn child, more so if you’re a first-time mother.
In many cases, they can refer you to a postpartum doula. These are professionals who can help a new mother navigate their postpartum period with more comprehensive feedback.
Advice can include how to change a baby’s diapers, how to give them a bath, how to safely handle them, and much more.
For medical advice, you should still refer to your health care provider.
3. Consult on Breastfeeding
Most mothers will take the breastfeeding route, which can have various physical and emotional benefits for the baby.
That said, it is very common for mothers to have problems with breastfeeding their babies, which is why formula feeding may come into the picture earlier than some parents may have a preconception for.
If you’re having breastfeeding issues, your doctor can refer you to a lactation consultant who can provide you with breastfeeding support.
Whether your case involves breast milk supply, breastfeeding positions, or sore breasts, you can get to the bottom of it with a lactation consultant.
That said, know that combo feeding is a very common route to take, too, and not being able to breastfeed for whatever reason will not be detrimental to the baby’s development as long as they can still get the nutrients they need to develop.
With the rise in maternal health complications within the U.S., it’s essential to pay attention to both pre and post-natal care.
Schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as you know that you’re pregnant.
Together with your doctor, you can develop a care routine that ensures that you and your baby’s health is in optimal shape from contraception through the first few months of life.
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Bridget Reed is a Tampa-based content development manager, writer, and editor at GR0; specializing in content related to varying fields including medicine, health, and small businesses. Bridget went to St. Petersburg College and majored in Management and Organizational Leadership.
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