While having a child is one of life’s biggest milestones, the process hasn’t always been safe for all concerned. The advent and development of early prenatal care is a relatively new concept when it comes to human reproduction. Yet taking steps to ensure a healthy birth has proven invaluable for keeping both mothers and babies safe. To get at the heart of why early prenatal care is important, we turned to our own Kirsten DiBenedetto, MSN, WHNP-C to get the inside scoop.
As a Johns Hopkins Summa Cum Laude alum and a Master of Science graduate from California State University, Long Beach, Kirsten brings both passion and expertise to Turner Medical Arts. Her knowledge and years of experience in treating women’s health concerns make her an invaluable asset to our team and an excellent source of information for soon-to-be mothers. Below are Kirsten’s professional views of why prenatal care is important and what you can expect.
Broadly, Why Is Prenatal Care Important?
Getting prenatal care is important for establishing the most optimal pregnancy for the health of mother and baby. When it comes to the benefits of prenatal care, Kirsten concurs that “prenatal care decreases the incidence of both maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality – it decreases the risk of pregnancy and delivery complications, preterm birth and low birth weight.”
How Can Women Considering Pregnancy Take Care of Themselves?
If you are considering pregnancy, healthy eating is always important as it is best to get your vitamins and minerals through food. Additionally, during pregnancy, your body has extra nutrient requirements which is why a prenatal vitamin is essential. Kirsten recommends a vitamin with at least 200mg DHA and 600mg Folic Acid.
Along with nutrition, it is essential to make sure any preexisting medical conditions such as Diabetes, Hypertension, Asthma, Mental Health issues are well controlled.
Kirsten stresses the importance of taking care of your health. She states that you should “check with your doctor to make sure any medications or supplements you are taking are safe during pregnancy, make sure immunizations are up to date, limit alcohol, and completely avoid drugs and smoking. Regular exercise is also a big plus for ensuring a healthy birth.”
How Often Should a Woman See Her Doctor During Pregnancy?
When it comes to visiting your doctor, Kirsten outlines the essential visits:
- The first appointment should be made between 6-10 weeks depending on the provider and f/u is every four weeks (1x/month).
- Starting at 28 weeks, you should visit your provider every two weeks.
- Starting at 36 weeks visits should be made weekly.
“Your doctor may request more visits if necessary if your pregnancy requires extra monitoring or if your pregnancy goes past 41 weeks. In addition, you will often see a perinatologist or maternal-fetal medicine specialist 1-2 times or more as necessary during your pregnancy.”
What is a Standard Prenatal Visit Like?
You can expect the following during a standard prenatal visit:
- Your doctor will ask a series of standard questions to see how you are feeling. Are you experiencing nausea or vomiting? Sleeping ok? Headaches? Back pain? Feeling fetal movement regularly? (starting around 28 weeks).
- Your doctor will check for signs of labor or preterm labor such as bleeding, leaking fluid, cramping, tightening of the uterus, pelvic pressure, or back pain.
- Your blood pressure and weight will also be evaluated. (25-35lb is the standard amount for a woman to gain during pregnancy but it may be less or more depending on your starting weight and single vs. multiple gestations). A urine analysis may be conducted as well (to check for signs of infection or protein, which can be a marker for preeclampsia).
- An ultrasound or doppler will be done to listen to fetal heart tones.
- Measurement of fundal height will be done to check fetal growth. The fundus is at the umbilicus at about 20 weeks and from there, you should measure about 2 cm +/- babies gestational age. So if you are 24 weeks, your fundus should measure between 22-26cm.
“Toward the end of your pregnancy, your doctor may check your cervix for signs of thinning (effacement) or widening (dilation). At certain visits, you can also expect to have lab work, vaccines, or other testing done.”
Do Women Over 30 Need to Take Extra Steps to Ensure a Healthy Pregnancy?
According to Kirsten, most women around age 35 will have a healthy, normal pregnancy and baby. However, some risks increase after 35, including a decline in fertility, chromosome disorders, miscarriage, gestational hypertension, gestational diabetes, placental problems, premature birth, and low birthweight.
Due to this, women over 35 may need additional testing or may have to take additional steps to ensure a healthy pregnancy. A Non-invasive prenatal test may be used to screen for major chromosome abnormalities. Non-stress tests to check your baby’s health or additional visits to maternal-fetal medicine may also be needed.
Additional Advice from Kirsten DiBenedetto, MSN, WHNP-C
Finally, Kirsten offers some additional recommendations to ensure a happy and healthy pregnancy outcome:
“If you are considering pregnancy I would ask your OBGYN or Primary Care Doctor to do some preliminary lab work:
- Varicella and Rubella Immune Status
- Genetic Carrier Screening
- Vitamin D
Often these labs will be done at your first prenatal visit, but I think it is better to know this information before you become pregnant. For example, if you discover you and your partner both carry a genetic condition that could be passed onto a child, perhaps you would consider conceiving in a different way, for example, IVF.
Or, if you are not immune to Rubella or Varicella (chickenpox), you can get a vaccine or booster before conception because both of these illnesses can be very harmful to a developing fetus if acquired during pregnancy.
Start monitoring your cycles with over-the-counter ovulation prediction kits or phone APPs designed to track your period, so you will know when you are supposed to be ovulating. Regular menstrual cycles are 24-35 days. If your cycles are irregular, you should speak with your healthcare provider.”
Prenatal Care Treatments in Santa Barbara, California
Maintaining a healthy pregnancy is easier done with a professional team by your side. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, we welcome you to schedule your consultation with Kirsten DiBenedetto today. To get started, request an appointment by calling (805) 962-1957 or filling out the form below.