Why do I need antenatal care?
Most women have perfectly straightforward pregnancies. However, it is a good idea to have antenatal care to make sure that you and the baby remain healthy and to identify any potential problems as soon as possible. It is also a good opportunity for you to ask questions and discuss plans for your baby’s birth.
You will usually have your first antenatal check (often called the first or booking visit) around the 12th week of pregnancy. How often you will have a check from then on depends on factors such as your age and how many previous pregnancies you have had. However, as a rough guide, you will have an antenatal check monthly until you are 28 weeks pregnant, then fortnightly until you are 36 weeks pregnant, then weekly until you have the baby. Your midwife should discuss this thoroughly with you, as local policies do vary.
Who will I see for antenatal care?
Antenatal care is given by midwives, general practitioners and hospital doctors who specialise in obstetrics. The actual professionals who will be involved in your care will depend on a number of factors, such as your general health and where you intend to have your baby.
What happens at the first visit?
This is the longest visit. Expect it to take about an hour to an hour and a half. You will be asked questions about your general health, any illnesses and operations and previous pregnancies. You will also be asked the date of your last menstrual period, so that you can be a given a date when your baby is due. Please note that the date is only approximate!
Tests you can expect to have at your first visit:
· Urine test. Your urine will be tested for glucose and protein. In some areas you may also be asked to provide a mid-stream specimen to test for the presence of infection.
· Blood tests. Blood will be taken to determine your group and Rhesus factor, haemoglobin level, immunity to rubella and possibly hepatitis B. In some areas you may be offered an HIV test. If you are of African or Afro-Caribbean extraction, you should be offered a test to see if you are a carrier of sickle cell disease. Similarly, if you come from Asia or a country bordering the Mediterranean, you should be offered a test to check your thalassaemia status.
· Your blood pressure will be checked.
· Your abdomen (stomach) will be palpated in order to assess the size of your uterus (womb).
You should also have a general physical examination around this time.
Are there any special tests?
Around the 14th-16th week of pregnancy your local hospital may invite you for an ultrasound scan. You may also be offered blood tests to screen your baby for spina bifida and Down’s Syndrome. However not all areas routinely offer these tests, so do ask your midwife or doctor if you feel that you would like to have them.
What happens at subsequent antenatal visits?
At every subsequent visit you should have the following:
· Urine test.
· Blood pressure check.
· Abdominal palpation.
You may also need further blood tests and ultrasound scans.
Antenatal care is a two way process. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything that is worrying you. If necessary, write a list of questions and take it with you when you see your midwife or doctor. They are there to help make sure your pregnancy goes as smoothly as possible.