What Is Prenatal Care?

Pregnant woman in exam room talking to healthcare provider.

Before becoming pregnant, you may have adopted good health habits to prepare for your baby. But if you didn’t, start today. One of the first steps is learning how to take care of yourself. See your healthcare provider as soon as you think you may be pregnant. Then, continue prenatal care throughout your pregnancy.

Prenatal care helps you have a healthy baby

During prenatal care:

  • Your healthcare provider evaluates the health of your pregnancy. Your healthcare provider will calculate a “due date” that gives an estimate of the delivery of your baby. Many women give birth between 38 and 41 weeks of pregnancy. Your due date is determined by counting 40 weeks from the first day of your last menstrual period.

  • The progress of your pregnancy is checked. This includes your baby’s growth, fetal heart rate, changes in your weight and blood pressure, and your overall health and comfort.

  • Your healthcare provider may find new concerns and manage existing ones before problems happen.

  • Your healthcare provider will check lab work through blood and urine.

  • Your healthcare provider will discuss normal changes that happen during pregnancy, changes that may not be normal, and appropriate lifestyle changes.

  • Your healthcare provider will answer your questions and help you prepare for labor and delivery of your baby.

You are part of a team

When you’re pregnant, you’re part of a team that includes you, your baby, and your healthcare provider. Your team also may include a partner or a main support person. He or she could be a loved one, like a spouse, a family member, or a friend. As you work toward giving your baby a healthy start, rely on your team members for support.

It’s not too late to start good habits

What matters most is protecting your baby from this moment on. If you smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs, now is the time to stop. If you need help, talk with your healthcare provider:

  • Smoking increases the risk of losing your baby or having a low-birth-weight baby. If you smoke, quit now.

  • Alcohol and drugs have been linked with miscarriage, birth defects, intellectual disability, and low birth weight. Avoid alcohol and drugs.

  • Eat a healthy diet. This helps keep you and your baby strong and healthy. Follow your healthcare provider's instructions for nutrition. Also stay within the guidelines you are given for healthy weight gain.

  • Take 400 micrograms to 800 micrograms (400 mcg to 800 mcg or 0.4 mg to 0.8 mg) of folic acid every day for at least 3 months before getting pregnant to lower your risk of some birth defects of the brain and spine. You can get folic acid from some foods. It is hard to get all of the folic acid you will need from foods alone. Talk with your healthcare provider about taking a folic acid supplement.

  • Regular exercise will help you stay fit and feel good during pregnancy. It can also help prevent or minimize back pain. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about how to exercise safely during pregnancy.

  • If you have a medical condition, be sure it is under control. Some conditions include asthma, diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, obesity, thyroid disease, or epilepsy. Be sure your vaccines are up to date.