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Preventive Care
Women's Health

A Comprehensive Guide to Prenatal Care

20 October 2023 · 5 mins read

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Prenatal care offers numerous benefits for pregnant women. Read to discover its advantages, when to start, and where to get the best prenatal care.

Embarking on the journey of motherhood is both exhilarating and demanding. One of the most crucial aspects of this journey is prenatal care. In the transformative journey of pregnancy, prenatal care stands as a guiding light, leading expectant mothers towards safe and healthy childbirth.

It is especially important as a healthy pregnancy is essential to promote healthy childbirth. A pregnancy journey can be less stressful when medical advice for an expecting mother’s needs is provided.

By understanding its importance and adhering to recommended guidelines, expectant mothers can significantly enhance their chances of a complication-free pregnancy and a healthy baby.

What is prenatal care?

Prenatal care, or antenatal care (ANC), refers to the medical and health services provided to pregnant women from conception until childbirth. It involves evaluating the mother’s medical history, recent physical health, addictions, lifestyle, and everything else that could affect the baby's health.

Regular check-ups, screenings, and educational sessions are typically included, allowing healthcare professionals to monitor the pregnancy's progress, detect potential complications early, and offer guidance on nutrition, exercise, and other lifestyle choices.

Why is prenatal care important?

Here are some reasons why pregnant women should prioritise prenatal care during their pregnancy journey:

  1. Reduces the risk of pregnancy complications

    During prenatal care clinics, the healthcare provider advises the pregnant woman on the following:

    • A healthy and safe diet.
    • A safe exercise routine.
    • Tips to control existing conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes to prevent serious complications.
    • Advice on harmful substances to avoid, such as radiation and lead to prevent future side effects on the foetus.

    All this information enables expectant mothers to improve their lifestyles to accommodate the growth of the foetus.

  2. Decreases the foetus’ and infant's risk for complications

    The healthcare provider follows up to ensure the mother takes enough precautions to protect the foetus. For example:

    • They ensure pregnant women are not using alcohol and tobacco. Even low amounts of alcohol can increase the risk for foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
    • They ensure that pregnant women take folic acid at least 3 months prior to conception, ensuring babies are born healthy.
    • They make sure the medications pregnant women are taking are safe.

When should you start prenatal care?

Prenatal care should ideally begin as soon as a woman suspects she is pregnant. Early and regular visits to a healthcare provider can help ensure the health and well-being of the mother and the developing baby.

Guidance on what to eat, supplements to take, and correct exercises can improve the chances of conceiving a healthy baby. This is referred to as preconception planning or pre-pregnancy care.

As such, starting care even before conception may be beneficial if planning a pregnancy.

How often are prenatal care visits needed?

The number of visits needed is determined by a few factors. For example, women with high-risk pregnancies will require more prenatal visits. Similarly, if you are pregnant with twins, you might need extra tests to check on each baby's growth. The frequency of visits will also be determined by how far along you are.

For a healthy pregnancy, this is the recommended schedule for prenatal visits:

  • Week 4 – Week 28: 1 prenatal visit per month
  • Week 24 – Week 36: 1 prenatal visit every two weeks
  • Week 36 – Week 40: 1 prenatal visit per week

What happens during your prenatal care appointments?

Here is what to expect during your prenatal care visits:

  1. First prenatal care appointment

    The first prenatal visit is probably the longest of all other appointments because the doctor needs to know all your medical conditions that could affect your pregnancy. Your health provider might ask about your medical history, including:

    • Your personal and family history.
    • Any medications, prescriptions, or supplements you are taking.
    • Your lifestyle – including caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and intake of other recreational substances, if any.
    • Your menstrual history, previous pregnancies, and gynaecological history.
    • Exposure to anything toxic, such as chemicals at work.
    • Travel history to areas with common infections such as tuberculosis, malaria, monkeypox, and other infections.

    During this appointment, disclose any other personal information, such as past drug use or domestic violence, to ensure the health provider gives you everything you need.

    You will also get a physical exam, blood, and urine tests to ensure you are healthy. The tests may include:

    • A pelvic exam.
    • A breast examination.
    • Testing for sexually transmitted infections like HIV, gonorrhoea, and syphilis.
    • Screening for rubella, anaemia, diabetes, and hepatitis B.
  2. Follow-up prenatal care appointments

    Follow-up appointments are standard if there are no complications. They may involve:

    • Measuring your uterus's growth.
    • Genetic testing.
    • Urine test to check gestational diabetes, kidney problems, and bladder issues.
    • Checking for ankle swelling.
    • Administering necessary vaccines such as Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (Tdap).
    • Updating medical history.
    • Listening to a foetal heartbeat.
    • Checking the foetus’ position.
    • Recommending other vaccines such as Hepatitis A or the flu shot.
    • Asking any questions you might have about your pregnancy journey.
  3. Common prenatal tests and screenings

    Prenatal care tests and screenings can help identify congenital disabilities and other health problems the foetus may have at an early stage, allowing early medical intervention and parents to make the right decision for their baby.

    The following are some standard prenatal tests:

    • Ultrasound: To check the baby's size, to find out if there are congenital disabilities or other problems the baby might have.
    • Amniocentesis: The doctor uses the amniotic fluid from the area surrounding your baby to measure their protein levels.
    • Non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT): This is a blood test that can be done as early as 12 weeks. This screening test is offered to see if the foetus is having chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome (Trisomy 21), Edward syndrome (Trisomy 18), Patau Syndrome (Trisomy 13), and other genetic disorders. The test can also determine the sex of the baby.
    • Maternal blood screen: To measure pregnancy-associated plasma protein - A (PAPP-A) and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) - to ensure the baby has no chromosomal disorders.
    • Foetal echocardiogram: If the health provider suspects any issues with the baby's heartbeat, this test will be done to give more precise details on a baby's heartbeat than an ultrasound.

Make an appointment at Pantai Hospitals

In Malaysia, Pantai Hospitals offer maternity services, including comprehensive prenatal care and check-ups. A prenatal care package usually covers everything a pregnant woman needs, including nutrition advice, exercise sessions, breathing classes, Ob/Gyn services, and many more.

Check out our comprehensive maternity packages to pick one that matches your requirements.

Get in touch with us to book an appointment with our team of O&G specialists today, or find out more about our Obstetrics and Gynaecology Services at your nearest Pantai Hospital.

Pantai Hospitals have been accredited by the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) for its commitment to patient safety and service quality.

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