What To Expect: Your First Prenatal Visit And Prenatal Care

There are two things I can say in honesty I didn’t necessarily expect about having a career in Obstetrics, Gynecology and prenatal care. First and foremost, nothing surprises me anymore and there is very little I won’t discuss openly. It is imperative for me that all of my patients understand: not only is my office a completely judgement free zone, but at this point there are few things that I have already seen or experienced.

Secondly, the emotions. My goodness gracious, the emotions. Again, this is not to say that there wasn’t some part of me that knew what I was getting myself into when it comes to the tears and the hard questions, and the laughter and the joy and all of the emotions I encounter every minute of every day with my patients. But let’s just say the emotions never disappoint.

So when it comes to those very first visits with expecting moms, I’m ready. Nothing surprises me and I’m ready for pretty much any combination of emotions I’m about to encounter.

Joy. Fear. Confusion  Relief. Concern. Anxiety. Surreal happiness. And yes, even grief. You may be feeling any of these things when you walk in that door at your very first OB appointment and I am here to tell you it’s OK.

If there’s something I’ve learned that helps my patients it’s knowledge and understanding of an otherwise novel situation. So let’s dive in – here are a few things you need to know before your first OB appointment:

What kind of questions should I expect? 

If you already see your OBGYN regularly that likely means she or he is aware of your health history and may have even been aware that you were planning to start a family. However, for those of you who haven’t seen your OBGYN lately (you’re not alone!), there may be a lot more questions than you anticipated at this initial visit, normally scheduled within the first 6-8 weeks of pregnancy.

For the health and well-being of your baby, your doctor will likely begin by taking a full health history (if they don’t already have it on file, of course). 

Aside from any general medical or psychological issues for you and your family, blood pressure, height, weight, date of your last period, birth control methods, and history of abortions or miscarriages will likely be discussed.

What tests or procedures can I expect?

One of the most important parts of the visit (aside from obviously making sure you’re a healthy momma) is to confirm the pregnancy itself. Depending on how far along you believe yourself to be based on the date of your last period, the doctor may try transvaginal ultrasound, which works exactly as it sounds like it would. This type of ultrasound utilizes technology that inserts into your vagina to conduct the ultrasound, take some measurements, and listen for a heartbeat. 

Those expecting moms who are further along may instead receive the more familiar pelvic ultrasound, which involves using an instrument on your belly to listen for the baby’s heartbeat. You may even get to see a glimpse of your baby at this point, again depending on where you’re at in your pregnancy.

For most of my patients that’s the moment – the big moment when the mom realizes it’s real, or (in some cases) it’s not. It happens quickly and is filled with all of the emotions I mentioned early, any and all of which are completely normal.

What many moms don’t necessarily anticipate is the blood tests that come next. Once the pregnancy is confirmed, an order is put in for blood tests. And I’ll be honest, unless you have experienced some sort of illness, have ongoing health issues, or you are considered at-risk, the amount of blood they draw may come as a surprise. 

The good news is it is all for a good cause: screening early on for risk factors associated with Rubella, Hepatitis B, Cystic Fibrosis, HIV, Sickle Cell Disease, Rh factor and blood type, and many other conditions. Other more specialized tests may be ordered as well, depending on your health history.

What kind of questions should I ask?

This is where I get really serious with my patients and followers alike. One of the most important values in my practice is making sure that my patients know how important it is to be honest and open with me, and to me that includes keeping the line of communication an ongoing dialogue.

You may not know what questions to ask at the beginning, but what’s important is that you ask them as they come up. For me, that means one of the most imperative questions to get straightened out from the start is who to contact as issues come up. In many cases there will be a nurse or someone on call who can answer your questions and get your message to your doctor or midwife if it is more urgent.

Your questions will change over time, but another one to consider is asking what lifestyle changes you can make to keep you and your baby healthy. It’s also important to understand the schedule of your upcoming appointments, as the frequency changes throughout the pregnancy and it is very important to try not to miss any along the way.

The most important thing to remember is that while you have every right to feel any and all of the emotions you’re feeling when the time comes to have that first visit, your doctor is a resource to you. She or he is there to counsel and offer advice based firmly on your unique, individual experiences while you’re pregnant. It’s an honor we have as OBGYNs and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

If you have any other questions about the experience of your first prenatal visit, please contact me – I’m here to help!