You see those two pink lines or the unmistakable “pregnant” on that tiny digital screen, and after telling your partner and possibly some friends and family all about the good news, you pick up the phone to call your chosen care provider’s office. You’re ready for your first prenatal visit!
It’s an exciting time to be preparing for a new baby, even when you’ve done it once (or several times) before. There’s always something new to experience, even if you think you’ve experienced it all already.
Prenatal visits are opportunities to meet your care provider, get all your questions answered, bond with your baby through hearing their heartbeat and seeing them on ultrasound, and generally making sure you’re healthy and prepared to give birth to your little one without any complications.
This article will give you a comprehensive look at what to expect at your first prenatal visit, whether you’re planning a hospital birth, a home birth, or still trying to make up your mind.
When Should I Schedule My First Pregnancy Appointment?
You’ve just found out you’re pregnant and make a call to your care provider, only to find out that they don’t need to see you until you’re at least 8 weeks pregnant. It may come as a shock that you’ll have to wait so long, but the truth is that your baby is too small to see or hear right now.
It isn’t until about 8 weeks along that your baby can be easily identified on a transvaginal ultrasound, and a Doppler may or may not pick up your baby’s heartbeat that early.
Many practices encourage you to come in for your first prenatal visit as far out as 12 weeks – at the end of your first trimester – when baby can be seen and heard clearly. It’s also much more likely that you will not miscarry at this point since up to 80% of miscarriages happen within the first three months of pregnancy.
Calling your midwife or doctor is the best way to find out when they prefer to see you for the first time, and if you’re already beyond 8 weeks along, it’s most likely they’ll try to get you in right away.
If you’re feeling anxious about miscarriage and would like to be seen sooner, be sure to mention that when you make your call. Your care provider should be willing to meet with you and answer any questions or concerns you have to help you ensure you have the healthiest start possible to your pregnancy.
It’s alright if you’re past the 12-week mark before setting your first appointment, but it’s best not to wait too long.
Your care provider makes a record of your health and your baby’s growth from the first time you are seen. Starting at the end of your first trimester is ideal for making sure your baby is growing and everything is going well right from the beginning.
If you wait too long to be seen, something could be missed that early treatment could prevent or help, so be sure to set your appointment and see your care provider before too much time passes.
Calling your doctor’s office as soon as you find out you’re pregnant will ensure you get an appointment in the right time frame, since some care providers with busy practices may be fully booked for several weeks in advance.
What If I’m Not A First Time Mother?
Even if this isn’t your first time giving birth and you’re not a first time mother, you should still schedule a prenatal visit in due time regardless of how many times you’ve been through the process before.
Have You Started Taking Your Prenatal Vitamins Yet?
While you’re waiting for that first prenatal visit, and if you haven’t done so already, start taking your prenatal vitamins.
Avoid prenatal vitamins made from manufactured nutrients and choose instead whole food supplements which can decrease morning sickness and are more bioavailable for your body to use in growing your baby.
Get to Know your Care Provider
Choosing your prenatal care provider is the most important decision you’ll make at this stage.
Your first prenatal visit with an OBGYN is the longest visit you’ll have with them before you give birth. It’s important to get a good feel for who they are and how you feel about their personality, demeanor, and the way they answer your questions during that first visit.
Midwives, especially home-birth midwives, often make it a priority to meet with you for much longer, since once they arrive at your birth they will stay through the entire birth.
The first visit will be longer still as the initial paperwork gets filled out and introductions are made. You’ll meet her assistants, if she has any, and meet or find out about any partners she has in her practice.
The first prenatal visit is like an interview, where you meet your chosen doctor or midwife and get a feel for whether their priorities and ideas about birth match your own.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to come prepared with a list of questions to ask your care provider. You’ll want to find out if they support the type of birth you want, what their cesarean rate is, and generally what you can expect when working with them.
This list is a good place to start with questions to ask before choosing a care provider. You don’t need to ask every question in the first visit, but do choose the ones that are most important to you and how you plan to give birth and make sure your care provider answers them in a satisfying way.
Prioritize your questions and things you want to discuss, and start from the most important ones first.
My Care Provider Isn’t A Good Fit For Me, What Do I Do Now?
What should you do if, after the first visit, your chosen provider doesn’t seem to fit with you and what you want for your pregnancy? You can switch care providers at ANY point in your pregnancy, even up to the day your baby is born.
If you decide to have an out of hospital birth, if you want the more attentive and personal care of a midwife, or if it turns out your pregnancy is high risk and you need to see a doctor, you can leave any practice and any provider whenever it becomes necessary for you to do so.
That said, make sure you do your research before that first prenatal visit. It’s easy to want to rush into things and get in to “meet” your baby via heartbeat or ultrasound as soon as possible, but it’s more important that you’re sure you’re comfortable with your care provider first.
Take a few days after finding out you’re pregnant to explore your local options, take your time studying them and do your research beforehand to maximize your chances of landing a good fit.
You can ask for recommendations on community forums, talk to friends and family and browse websites – just make sure the people you ask have the same priorities for pregnancy and birth that you do.
If you go around asking in the wrong places, you’ll get recommendations that don’t go in line with what you’re looking for or believe in.
You wouldn’t want to take a referral for a doctor specializing in high-risk pregnancies if you want a natural vaginal birth, just as you wouldn’t want a home birth midwife if you’d prefer to get an epidural.
It’s all about priorities.
What You Should Bring To Your First Prenatal Visit
As far as items you need to bring along with you, you don’t need much for your first prenatal visit.
Some form of official I.D. such as a driver’s license, your insurance card, some form of payment to cover any copay for the visit, and maybe a water bottle and a book for the waiting room to keep yourself busy. That’s all you really need!
What Happens at Your First Prenatal Visit? What To Expect
Regardless of whether you are planning a home birth with a midwife or a hospital birth with a doctor, the basic essential tasks that will occur at your first prenatal visit are pretty much the same.
Your medical history will be gathered, your current personal information will be recorded, and your blood pressure will be taken, along with a urine sample which will be used to officially confirm your pregnancy, among other things.
In most cases, you will have the opportunity to hear your baby’s heartbeat with a handheld Doppler, and in some cases (this becoming increasingly more common), you might receive a transvaginal ultrasound and even get to see your baby.
These early ultrasounds are used to estimate your baby’s gestational age (especially if you don’t know when your last period was or if you haven’t had a period in a while), screen for genetic disorders, count the number of fetuses, check the heart rate, and rule out an ectopic pregnancy.
This ultrasound is optional, though, you don’t have to take it if you don’t want to. While it may bring peace of mind if you are anxious about your baby’s health, keep in mind that studies about ultrasounds during pregnancy are currently inconclusive as to the potential risks involved, so it is typically best to stick to just having one ultrasound in mid-pregnancy unless there are other risk factors involved.
Your doctor or midwife can also estimate your due date using the date of your last menstrual cycle. Remember this date is only an estimate, and the actual date you give birth on may fluctuate up to 2 weeks in either direction! Every baby and every pregnancy is different, so nothing is guaranteed.
It’s even possible your care provider will change your due date later on while they’re monitoring different factors involved, especially if your mid-pregnancy ultrasound that takes place at about 20 weeks in shows that you’re further along.
What Your Doctor Wants to Know During Your First Prenatal Visit
At some point during your first prenatal appointment, you’ll be given a small stack of papers to fill out.
This will most likely be given to you in the waiting room at a doctor’s office, or your midwife will go over it with you directly during your appointment.
Here’s a list of items you can expect to be asked on those forms. You’ll want to be prepared with the information beforehand so you don’t have to come up with it on the spot, just in case there’s something there you need to double check first for the sake of accuracy.
- Medical and/or psychological issues (current and history)
- Weight and Height
- The date and results of your last Pap smear and breast exam
- Date of your last menstrual period
- Birth control methods you’ve used
- History of past pregnancies, including any abortions and/or miscarriages
- Hospitalizations and surgeries
- Current medications and supplements you’re taking (even herbal supplements)
- Known allergies
- Family medical history for yourself and your partner/the father of the baby
Your care provider will want to discuss nutrition and fitness changes with you as well, including protein intake (especially if you’re on a vegetarian or vegan diet), raw fish and lunch meats, alcohol and smoking, exercise and weight gain, and dental health.
Tests, Tests, And More Tests
There are a number of tests that can take place at the first prenatal visit, although some providers will have you make another appointment before you receive them.
A blood test will be done to get a baseline for your iron levels and general health. This involves a finger prick as well as receiving a needle in your arm so that several small vials of blood can be collected.
These vials will go on to be used in the completion of various tests assessing your overall health, including hemoglobin and hematocrit, blood type and Rh Factor, screenings for various illnesses, Hepatitis B and C, HIV, etc.
It’s important that you eat a good meal and stay well hydrated before going to your first prenatal appointment so that you don’t faint after your blood is drawn.
Genetic testing will also be done if you’ve opted into it.
These tests check for chromosomal abnormalities such as Trisomy-18 and Down Syndrome Trisomy-21 through use of ultrasound and maternal blood testing.
It’s valuable to know that if the test comes back positive there is still a less than 3% chance of your baby experiencing these abnormalities. Consider this carefully and consult with your doctor before taking any permanent action as a result of a positive genetic test.
You’ll also be tested for STDs, just as you are with a typical pap smear outside of pregnancy.
Are These Tests Necessary?
Though very much recommended, none of these tests are mandatory for you to take (unless there’s a valid medical reason for you to do so), so if you have issues with any of them please be prepared to discuss them with your care provider.
Just remember, these tests are done because the more information your care team has at their disposal, the better prepared they are to ensure you and your baby get the best care and quickest treatment possible in the case of an abnormal result.
Wrapping It Up
There’s certainly a lot to take in and a lot to look forward to in the first prenatal visit.
You may walk out of your doctor’s or midwife’s office in need of a nap after all the excitement and new information that’s now swimming around your brain.
Having a great prenatal care team is so vital to your pregnancy, though, so this is something you definitely want to get right.
Hopefully you can rest easy now knowing they are there to support you during this incredible stage of your life.
The only thing left to do is enjoy this time as much as you can – it won’t last forever before little baby’s out of your tummy!