Congratulations! You are going to be a mommy. Seeing the urine strip say positive can be a euphoric experience for many. But once the initial surprise or shock or ecstasy is over, pregnancies can be overwhelming. Especially, if it is your first pregnancy, there is some preparation that you need to do. This informed planning is also necessary if you are deciding to start a family. You must be aware of what you are getting yourself into, to ensure a stable physical and mental health. Let’s now talk about antenatal checkups.
Antenatal checkups are crucial for adequate well-being of your baby and you. It is very important to have a doctor who is familiar with your history, keeps a track of your pregnancy and will be available in case of emergency. And this kind of doctor-patient relationship is only built if you are also compliant with your appointments.
First antenatal checkup
The first antenatal checkup must be as soon as you miss your period. Your home pregnancy tests may not be accurate. So, you must visit your doctor. The doctor will take some blood tests to get an idea of your baseline health. He or she will also perform an abdominal ultrasound to ensure the healthy implantation of an embryo (a teeny tiny version of your baby)
In this visit, you must discuss with your doctor the medications you take and the supplements you might require.
Second antenatal checkup
The second antenatal checkup must be between 7-10 weeks. This checkup is important because, after 7 weeks of your pregnancy, the fetus develops a beating heart. This activity confirms the vitality of pregnancy. If the scan at this stage does not show fetal heart activity, give your little one a week’s time. Some babies develop a beating heart a little later.
Schedule of antenatal checkups
After the confirmation that you have an alive fetus in your womb, the ideal schedule for an antenatal checkup is as follows:
- 1 visit per month till 7th month (28 weeks)
- 1 visit after every two weeks till the beginning of 9th month (36 weeks)
- 1 visit every week till the end of pregnancy (36-40 weeks)
These scheduled antenatal checkups are meant to keep a record of your health and your baby’s progress. Any abnormal change or finding can be easily caught on time if you are visiting your OB/GYN regularly. This will result in a healthy, uncomplicated delivery and will also give your baby a better shot at life.
Week 20 antenatal checkup
It is a must to schedule an antenatal checkup in or immediately after your week 20 of pregnancy. The reason being that in this week, major organs of your baby start to form or have developed by now. An ultrasound can pick any congenital abnormalities or syndrome easily.
If an ultrasound is not enough, blood testing at this stage can also help a great deal. Your doctor might need to poke a needle inside your tummy to get your baby’s blood and your baby sac fluid as well to ensure that the mother and the baby are doing fine. This test is known as amniocentesis.
Week 30 antenatal checkup
Week 30 antenatal checkup also holds a special significance. After the 30th week of your pregnancy, the baby’s head is supposed to be facing downwards towards your vagina. The position of the baby’s head can be assessed at this stage by an ultrasound or a per-vaginal examination.
If the baby fails to turn his head down, your doctor will decide how to proceed next. Some doctors prefer to wait a little while to give the baby more time. Some perform a maneuver called ‘External Cephalic Rotation’. In this maneuver, the doctor tries to turn the head down by putting circular pressure on your tummy. If the baby still prefers to stay upright (because of some physical obstruction, which too can be seen on a sonogram!) your doctor then needs to plan an elective cesarean delivery.
Conditions requiring more than recommended antenatal checkups
Your doctor might advise you to visit him or her more often than the schedule we mentioned earlier. This does not mean that he or she is less competent or that he or she is trying to mooch off money out of you. Some health conditions do require an extra number of antenatal visits.
Having a baby after 30
Medical science suggests having a baby before 30 years as it is a healthier option. If you are having a baby after 30, especially near or after your 40s, you need to be extra vigilant. You have increased chances of developing high blood pressures, high blood sugar levels, and early labor.
Your baby is also at a higher risk of developing congenital birth defects. You need more antenatal checkups to catch and manage these problems before they can cause life-long, irreversible damage.
Health conditions that develop during pregnancy or are pre-existing
Some of you will already be suffering from health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressures. Some will develop these conditions during pregnancy. If you are already suffering from such vices, or have a family history or other risk factors, it is a must to have your antenatal checkups more often and more vigilantly. This will help in managing the complications of these diseases.
Rupture of membranes/abnormal bleeding/risk of pre-term labor
If you feel a gush of fluid being discharged from your vagina or there is abnormal bleeding, this might mean your baby is on the way to the world a little earlier. If any of such signs occur, or if you have a previous history or family history of pre-term labor, you need an antenatal checkup to asses the condition of the baby.
Based on this checkup, your doctor will decide if your pregnancy should continue or if you need to terminate it or get an operation to deliver the baby.
In conclusion, at least 10-12 antenatal checkups are necessary to track your baby’s health, not to forget yours as well! You should keep a record of all such visits and they should be available with you. Your doctor can tweak your visits tailored to your specific needs.