When you're expecting, you'll welcome a new routine into your life: regular prenatal visits. As many moms can tell you, there's an air of excitement to these visits. You'll learn your estimated due date and hear your baby's heartbeat for the first time. Your doctor will also monitor your health and your baby's health, provide nutrition and activity guidelines, explain what to expect during labor and delivery, and offer tips on how to care and feed your new baby.
Recommended Schedule for a Healthy Pregnancy
For a healthy pregnancy, your doctor will probably want to see you on the following recommended schedule of prenatal visits:
- Weeks 4 to 28: 1 prenatal visit a month
- Weeks 28 to 36: 1 prenatal visit every 2 weeks
- Weeks 36 to 40: 1 prenatal visit every week
If you're pregnant with twins, your doctor will suggest more frequent prenatal visits. You may also need extra tests between visits, such as ultrasounds to check on each baby’s growth and amount of amniotic fluid.
Be sure to stick to the schedule that your doctor suggests -- even if life gets hectic. Prenatal care is important for both your health and your baby's health. In fact, when a mother doesn't get prenatal care, their baby is three times more likely to have a low birth weight. When your doctor checks you regularly, they can spot problems early and treat them so that you can have the healthiest pregnancy possible.
Risk Factors That May Require More Visits
The recommended schedule isn't set in stone. Your doctor will decide how often to see you based on your individual health picture. They will want to see you more often if you had any health problems before you became pregnant or if problems develop during your pregnancy. You also may need additional tests to ensure that you and your baby stay healthy.
If you have any of these risk factors, your doctor may increase the number of your prenatal visits:
- Being age 35 and older. Fortunately, most women in their late 30s and early 40s will give birth to strong, healthy babies. But after age 35, you have an increased chance of having a baby born with a birth defect. You also have a higher risk for complications during pregnancy.
- Pre-existing health problems. If you have a history of diabetes or high blood pressure, your doctor will probably want to see you more often. Your doctor will work with you to closely manage these health conditions so they don't affect your pregnancy or your baby's health. Other health problems such as asthma, lupus, anemia, or obesity may also require more visits.
- Medical problems that develop during pregnancy. During prenatal visits, your doctor will look for complications that can occur after you've become pregnant. These include preeclampsia, or pregnancy-related high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. If you develop any of these health conditions, you may need to come in more often so your doctor can keep close tabs on your health.
- Risk of preterm labor. If you have a history of preterm labor or a premature birth, or if you start showing signs of preterm labor, your doctor will want to monitor you more closely.
Seeing your doctor for regular prenatal care can help put your mind at ease. You'll know that you're doing all you can to have a healthy baby and safe pregnancy.
Twin Pregnancy: Special Concerns
Many women deliver healthy twins, but a multiple birth needs extra attention and care. Your doctor will focus on some key areas during your prenatal visits:
Proper nutrition and weight gain. Given that you’re carrying two little ones, you'll need to gain more weight than a woman carrying a single baby. A normal amount of weight gain for a woman carrying twins is between 35 to 45 pounds. Your doctor will talk with you about exactly how much weight you should gain, what types of foods you should eat, and what supplements to take.
Preterm labor. Preterm labor, or labor that starts before the end of the 37th week, is the biggest health concern for twin pregnancies. Premature babies have a higher risk for health problems than babies that go full term. About half of all twins are born preterm. Your doctor will review signs of preterm labor with you and watch carefully during your prenatal visits for any signs of preterm labor.
Your health risks. A twin pregnancy raises your risk for high blood pressure, anemia, gestational diabetes, and needing a C-section compared with someone carrying a single child. Your doctor will monitor you for these conditions during your prenatal visits.
Your twins' health risks. Twins are more likely to be born smaller than average. Placenta problems can occur during twin pregnancies. Also, twins who share a placenta are at risk for twin-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS). This disorder can cause one baby to have too much blood and amniotic fluid, while the other has too little. If your babies share a placenta, you will probably need to have ultrasounds every 2 weeks starting at your 16th week of pregnancy to monitor your babies for TTTS.