ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR PRENATAL APPOINTMENTS
Let’s start with the obvious: prenatal care is vital to your and your baby’s health. Unlike finding the perfect outfit for your growing bump, spending a lot of time in a doctor’s office isn’t anyone’s first choice for fun. That's why it's super important to have an OB/GYN you like... over the course of your pregnancy, you’ll be seeing *a lot* of them.
We spoke with Dr. Jennifer Park at the Fair Oaks Women’s Center in Pasadena, CA, to walk us through a typical prenatal appointment schedule. Read on for the skinny on what’s covered at each appointment, and give yourself a head start on the questions you’ll want to have in mind.
7 TO 8 WEEKS: YOU'RE PREGNANT!
“Somewhere around 6 weeks is when people find out they’re pregnant, 1 or 2 weeks after the missed period,” Dr. Park says. That’s typically when you call your OB/GYN and schedule your first appointment, for around 7 to 8 weeks. You’ll have your first ultrasound and hear a heartbeat, and get a grainy pic of the babe in your belly. Your doc will go over the necessary prenatal vitamins you should be taking, whether you've had a miscarriage before, and will likely do bloodwork as well. Your doctor will also take your blood pressure and test your urine for protein, two things that will happen at every single appointment.
10 WEEKS: GENETIC TESTING/BLOODWORK
The big talk at this appointment? Genetic testing. Bloodwork tests for Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities can be done as early as 10 weeks (they’ll also determine the sex of your baby!). If you’re over 35, your doctor will probably highly recommend them, but those under 35 can get opt to have them done as well. Consider whether you want to do the genetic testing before your appointment, and raise any questions or concerns you have with your doctor—if you do want to do the testing, they’ll draw your blood that day. They’ll also draw blood to determine blood type, hormone levels, red and white blood cell levels, and to screen for any STDs.
12 WEEKS: ULTRASOUND/NT SCREENING
Time for another ultrasound, which includes a nuchal translucency screening. Your ultrasound technician will measure your baby to test for Down syndrome and other genetic abnormalities.
15 WEEKS: AFP SCREENING
You can probably expect a physical exam at this appointment as well as a pap smear. Your 16 weeks appointment is also when you’ll have the Alpha-Fetoprotein (or AFP) blood test, which can detect neural tube defects (like spina bifida) and other abnormalities.
20 WEEKS: ANATOMY SCAN
You’ve reached the halfway mark, which means it’s time for another ultrasound. This one is a full-body anatomy scan, and the ultrasound technician will measure every part of your growing baby. If you haven’t done genetic blood testing, this is when you’ll be able to find out the baby’s sex (if you don’t want to know, be sure to tell your technician ahead of time!).
24 WEEKS: CHECKUP
"If everything looked normal at the 20 week ultrasound, this is usually just a quick check for heartbeat by Doppler machine,” Dr. Park says. It also marks the second phase of prenatal appointments. “The first half of the pregnancy we are just doing screening tests, lots and lots of screening tests, making sure everything's healthy. In the second half we start to get ready for the baby.” Your doc will assess fetal movement and begin the conversation about getting ready for the hospital, encouraging you to take classes, and look into cord blood banking. Curious what to pack? We got you.
28 WEEKS: GLUCOSE TEST/RHOGAM
Even if you’ve never been pregnant before, you’ve probably heard about the glucose test—when you have to chug unnaturally colored sugar water before having your blood drawn in order to test for gestational diabetes. Don’t worry, it’s over fast. If your earlier bloodwork tested Rh negative (meaning you’re among the 15 percent of the population whose red blood cells don’t carry a particular type of protein) your 28 weeks appointment is also when you’ll get the RhoGAM shot, to treat any Rh incompatibility with your baby (something that would really only affect a later pregnancy, because of the way your body would respond to your current delivery with a particular type of antibodies).
32 WEEKS: VACCINES
At your last monthly visit, your doc may do an ultrasound just to see how much the baby weights, and if its growth is on track. “The other thing we typically do at 32 weeks is make sure vaccines are up to date,” Dr. Park says. “But this can happen at any time during the third trimester.” Your doctor will recommend a Tdap vaccine (tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis—aka whooping cough), which includes only inactivated viruses. Live virus vaccinations, like chickenpox, and MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) should be avoided during pregnancy.
34 WEEKS: CHECKUP
"This is a pretty basic visit,” Dr. Park says. Just the usual blood pressure check and urine test for mama, and a heart rate and movement check for baby.
36 WEEKS: GBS SWAB
In addition to the basic checkup, your doctor will do a GBS vaginal swab, to check for group B streptococcus, a bacteria that lives in about 25 percent of healthy women, most of which show know symptoms of infection. But because it can be passed on to your baby during delivery, and cause complications in newborns, if you test positive your doctor will recommend antibiotics (delivered via IV during delivery).
37 WEEKS: CERVICAL CHECK
Congratulations, you’re considered full-term! “At 37 weeks I start doing cervical checks to see if you’re dilating or effaced,” Dr. Park says, looking to see if your cervix is starting to open or thin and stretch. “We also talk about what to look out for if you’re going to go into labor, like your water breaking and contractions, including our standard contraction counter for first-time mothers, the 5-1-1 rule: if your contractions are five minutes apart, lasting for a minute, for an hour, go in!”
38 + 39 WEEKS: CHECKUP
Weekly standard checkups with cervical checks.
40 WEEKS: CHECKUP
A standard checkup with a cervical check. Now’s a good time to talk to your doctor about your options post due date. “We see people 2 to 3 times a week when they’re past their due date,” Dr. Park says. “And it’s an individualized choice as to when we induce,” with a number of factors in play. But she says, “The absolute latest we want anyone to go is 42 weeks.”
40+ WEEKS: CHECKUP
A standard checkup with a cervical check, and lots of crossed fingers that baby will be ready to greet the world soon! Dr. Park also has some advice for a “It’s a good idea to have a list of questions written down, it always seems like people forget,” she says. “And never be afraid to call if there’s anything worrisome—signs of labor, bleeding, contractions, or not feeling the baby move, none of those things can wait.” And while googling is the first go-to for every pregnant mama, Dr. Park suggests getting some recommended resources from your doctor, so that your information is reliable.