The Ultimate Pregnancy Appointment Guide: What to Expect Week by Week at Your Prenatal Visits
Central to ensuring the health and well-being of you and your growing baby is seeing your care team regularly for touchpoints and milestones that are part of your pregnancy appointment schedule. Diana Kaufman, MD, UnityPoint Health, shares the recommended timeline for prenatal visits, and the importance of each test and discussion that’ll prepare you for a safe pregnancy and delivery.
Confirming Your Pregnancy
Every woman’s body is unique, but it’s a good idea to visit a doctor to confirm a pregnancy when you’re experiencing early symptoms, such as a missed period or you’ve received a positive home pregnancy test. Typically, this visit happens at 6-8 weeks of pregnancy.
Your doctor may confirm your pregnancy through urine tests, blood tests or ultrasounds.
Initial Prenatal Appointment: 5-12 Weeks
Your first prenatal visit consists of important screenings and discussions, so your healthcare team can create a care plan that ensures you and baby stay healthy throughout your pregnancy. Prepare a few things for this visit, including:
- Complete medical history: It’s important for your doctor to know your past and present health conditions or concerns, medications and any history of disease, substance abuse or known genetic conditions in your family.
- Insurance information: This includes consents for care, your insurance carrier and other paperwork
Here’s what to expect at your first pregnancy appointment
- A physical, which will likely include a breast and pelvic exam.
- A urine sample is collected to check for certain infections and conditions that can occur during pregnancy. Urine tests may be taken at your following prenatal visits as well. Urine drug screening tests are also recommended for women, or their partners, with a history of substance use — including smoking.
- Routine testing that includes blood draws to check your blood type and complete blood count (CBC) and look for specific diseases including hepatitis, HIV, syphilis and checking for immunity against rubella. Other testing that may occur includes genetic screening and testing for diabetes.
Your care team will review prenatal educational materials with you and remedies for any unpleasant pregnancy symptoms, such as nausea or vomiting. Your team also will provide an estimated due date for baby.
It’s also important to take good care of your teeth and gums during pregnancy. Changing hormone levels make your gums more sensitive to disease, which increases your risk for a low-birth weight or premature baby. Consider making an appointment to see your dentist during your first trimester.
Prenatal Appointment: Second Trimester (13 – 26 Weeks)
During weeks 13-26, you’ll see your doctor every four weeks. It’s a good idea to write down questions or concerns before your appointments to ensure they’re addressed.
At each appointment throughout the rest of your pregnancy, your care team will check the following:
- Blood pressure
- Position of baby
- Baby’s heartbeat
Here are some additional things to expect.
- Prenatal genetic testing: There are many different options for prenatal genetic testing. Your care team will review these with you.
- Pregnancy blood tests: These are tailored to your specific needs. Most patients are tested for anemia and diabetes of pregnancy between weeks 24-28. Other recommended tests will be reviewed with you.
- Ultrasound: It’s common to have an ultrasound in the first trimester to confirm the estimated due date. Ultrasound is also common at 20 weeks to check on baby's growth and development. Further ultrasounds could be needed if changes in your pregnancy make it necessary, such as concerns about baby’s growth or to see if baby is head down.
- Discuss preterm labor signs: Preterm labor refers to labor that begins before the 37th week of pregnancy and requires medical attention. Knowing what to look for — such as contractions, changes in vaginal discharge — is important for preventing potential complications.
- Childbirth classes: It’s a good idea to register for a class to help you prepare for baby’s arrival.
When to Call Your Doctor
Pregnancy creates new and unfamiliar symptoms in many women. However, some symptoms need attention. Here’s when to call your doctor in the second trimester:
- Vaginal bleeding, even a small amount
- Leg pain with numbness or leg weakness
- Pain or tenderness in one of both calves that doesn’t go away
- Thoughts of hurting yourself or others
- Severe headaches that don’t go away with Tylenol
- Persistent changes in vision such as blurriness or floaters
- More than five contractions in an hour
Now, your visits to your care team become more frequent — happening every two weeks until you’re 36 weeks pregnant. Your care team continues to monitor you and baby. Here’s what else to expect:
Prenatal Appointments: Third Trimester (27 Weeks – Baby’s Arrival)
- Check fetal movement: It’s important to be aware of your baby's movements. If you notice a sudden change or absence of fetal movement, let you care team know.
- Rhogam injections: If an Rh-negative blood type was found during your initial prenatal visit, you’ll receive an injection to prevent immune system complications for future pregnancies. This usually happens at 28 weeks.
- Additional prenatal testing: Around 35-37 weeks, you’re checked to see if you carry group B streptococcus bacteria. This is one of many bacteria that can live on our skin and typically does not cause problems. However, it can infect a newborn when you deliver. Antibiotics are given during delivery to prevent infection in a newborn if you test positive.
Prenatal Appointments: 36 Weeks – End of Pregnancy
Once you’ve reached 36 weeks, you’ll see your doctor every week until you deliver. These visits are essential for ensuring the well-being of both you and your little one, as well as preparing for a safe and smooth delivery. In addition to routine physical examinations and checking baby’s heartbeat and movement, here’s what else you can expect:
- Cervical exams: If you’re having frequent contractions or preparing to be induced, your doctor will likely need to perform this exam.
- Discuss labor signs: You’ll likely discuss signs of labor with your doctor and when to go to the hospital.
- Discuss birth preferences: It’s not necessary to have a birth plan. Your care team has that covered. Our goal is to keep you and your baby healthy throughout the entire pregnancy and delivery process. However, if you have strong desires or needs for delivery, please discuss those during a prenatal appointment. It’s also helpful to write these things down and bring them to the hospital, since you may not be able to fully express your wishes during labor.
After delivering baby, but before you leave the hospital, call your doctor to make your postpartum appointment, if it hasn’t been scheduled yet. This visit typically occurs around 6 weeks after you deliver. Other visits are scheduled based on your individual needs.
These visits are a time for your doctor to check on your healing, discuss normal or abnormal postpartum bleeding, talk about your well-being and any signs of postpartum depression or anxiety, discuss when it’s safe to start exercising again and address other questions or concerns you may have.
Our UnityPoint Health care team is here to care for you and baby throughout the entirety of your pregnancy and beyond. Call us to schedule your first appointment or if you have questions about any future appointments.