It’s official: You’re finally pregnant and about to embark on the exciting journey of new motherhood. Up until now, your visits to the gynecologist have mostly been reserved for your annual check-up, but that’s all about to change.
To help you prepare you for the next nine months, get ready to clear your calendar and put your baby’s arrival front and center. Thanks to tips and advice from medical experts, you’ll have a better idea of what happens during regular office visits, so you can plan for a healthy delivery.
Becoming a mom actually begins long before conception has been confirmed. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women thinking about becoming pregnant see their OB/GYN beforehand. “We like to work on good health habits: non-smoking, drinking, taking drugs (including marijuana) before women actually conceive,” says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, clinical professor, obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn. She also notes the importance of managing patients with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetics, during their pregnancies. “Getting their blood sugars in perfect control will hugely reduce their chance of having a baby with a birth defect,” she adds.
For women without any potential medical complications, they should set ample time aside for their first obstetrical visit—generally the longest of all prenatal appointments, according to Dr. Michelle Levin, an OB/GYN with Northwell Health, Great Neck, NY. During this time, doctors will compile a detailed medical history and perform a physical exam and usually an ultrasound. “This confirms the pregnancy is growing in the appropriate location and establishes an accurate due date,” she adds.
In the first trimester, appointments typically take place every four weeks. “During these visits, we are doing a lot more educating and very little physical examining,” says Dr. Shweta Patel, an OB/GYN with Orlando Health Physician Associates, Winter Garden, Fla. In addition to checking the baby’s heartbeat, doctors will ensure that moms-to-be are eating well and gaining weight sufficiently. “It’s a great time to review expectations, as well as to discuss fears and concerns,” she says.
Moving Right Along
Appointments during the second trimester follow a similar schedule—occurring once every four weeks—and include a more detailed ultrasound. As pregnancy shifts into high gear, visits during the third trimester become more regular: every two weeks and then becoming weekly. According to Levin, this is when doctors will address any concerns or labor symptoms, check the fetal heart rate and growth of the uterus and monitor your vital signs.
He or she may also recommend that you and your partner to sign up for a labor and delivery class at a local hospital or birthing center. Also, to start thinking about choosing a pediatrician before the baby’s arrival. “As I say to my patients, you’re meeting the baby for the first time in the hospital; it’s good to have met the pediatrician before that,” says Minkin.
Educating first-time parents on how to gauge the signs of the start of labor is another key topic. “We discuss monitoring for contractions, bleeding and leaking of fluid, and advise fetal movement,” says Levin.
Creating a birth plan may also be on the table for discussion, including a patient’s expectations for the delivering process. “Coming up with that together really helps parents feel more prepared and calmer as they approach their big day,” says Patel.
Following childbirth and returning home to settle in with their baby, new moms will next see their OB/GYN for a postpartum checkup. This usually takes place 4-6 weeks after delivery, but can be sooner depending upon the type of delivery and any complications. “If a mom had a C-section, her provider may want to see her in 1-2 weeks for an incision check,” notes Minkin. “If she had preeclampsia (toxemia), we may see someone back in 2-7 days for a blood pressure check.”
Regular postpartum visits involve a physical exam, screening for depression and discussion about weight loss and contraception. Doctors may also inquire about how their patients are adjusting to new motherhood, including completing their maternity leave.
With such a tremendous change that comes with the arrival of a first child, new moms can easily become overwhelmed by this life-altering experience. When asked what one piece of advice OB/GYNs could share with their patients, Levin stresses the importance of talking to your physician about your concerns. “Trust your doctor and ask questions. Your doctor and their staff are there to help you get the best outcome for you and your baby.”
And since pregnancy is fleeting, taking each moment of your pregnancy day by day is something to savor. “Remember to take this journey on as a team and enjoy time together before it becomes a party of three,” says Patel.