||The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (March 2012)
A doctor performs a prenatal exam.
Prenatal care (also known as antenatal care) refers to the regular medical and nursing care recommended for women during pregnancy. Prenatal care is a type of preventative care with the goal of providing regular check-ups that allow doctors or midwives to treat and prevent potential health problems throughout the course of the pregnancy while promoting healthy lifestyles that benefit both mother and child. During check-ups, women will receive medical information over maternal physiological changes in pregnancy, biological changes, and prenatal nutrition including prenatal vitamins. Recommendations on management and healthy lifestyle changes are also made during regular check-ups. The availability of routine prenatal care has played a part in reducing maternal death rates and miscarriages as well as birth defects, low birth weight, and other preventable health problems.
Prenatal care generally consists of:
- monthly visits to the doctors during the first twotrimesters (from week 1–28)
- fortnightly visits to doctor from 28th week to 36th week of pregnancy
- weekly visits to doctor after 36th week till delivery(delivery at week 38–40)
- Assessment of parental needs and family dynamic
Prenatal diagnosis or prenatal screening (note that "Prenatal Diagnosis" and "Prenatal Screening" refer to two different types of tests) is testing for diseases or conditions in a fetus or embryo before it is born. Obstetricians and midwives have the ability to monitor mother's health and prenatal development during pregnancy through series of regular check-ups.
Physical examinations generally consist of:
Ultrasound Obstetric ultrasounds are most commonly performed during the second trimester at approximately week 20. Ultrasounds are considered relatively safe and have been used for over 35 years for monitoring pregnancy. Among other things, ultrasounds are used to:
- Diagnose pregnancy (uncommon)
- Check for multiple fetuses
- Assess possible risks to the mother (e.g., miscarriage, blighted ovum, ectopic pregnancy, or a molar pregnancy condition)
- Check for fetal malformation (e.g., club foot, spina bifida, cleft palate, clenched fists)
- Determine if an intrauterine growth retardation condition exists
- Note the development of fetal body parts (e.g., heart, brain, liver, stomach, skull, other bones)
- Check the amniotic fluid and umbilical cord for possible problems
- Determine due date (based on measurements and relative developmental progress)
Generally an ultrasound is ordered whenever an abnormality is suspected or along a schedule similar to the following:
- 7 weeks — confirm pregnancy, ensure that it's neither molar or ectopic, determine due date
- 13–14 weeks (some areas) — evaluate the possibility of Down Syndrome
- 18–20 weeks — see the expanded list above
- 34 weeks (some areas) — evaluate size, verify placental position
In the United States
Proper prenatal care affects all women of various social background. While availability of such services have considerable personal health and social benefits, socioeconomic problems prevent its universal adoption in both developing and developed nations, such as the US. Although women can benefit by utilizing prenatal care services, there exists various levels of health care accessibility between different demographics throughout the United States.