nce you see that positive pregnancy test you know your life is about to change--but how? And how can you prepare for it? Luckily, there’s no shortage of information on what to do before, during, and after pregnancy. In this post, we’ll talk about how you can prepare yourself for each stage of your pregnancy. We’ll cover:
- A guide to your doctor’s appointments
- A look at your next nine months
A Guide to Your Doctor’s Appointments
When to Go to Your Doctor
Making an appointment with your doctor should be your first step after seeing your positive pregnancy test. The recommendation is to see your OB/Gyn within eight weeks of your last menstrual period. It’s important to visit your OB/Gyn even if you’ve been pregnant before because every pregnancy is different.
Your OB/Gyn will confirm your home pregnancy test, tell you your due date, and collect information on your family history and personal health in order to figure out the best plan for your pregnancy.
Your prenatal appointment schedule will be specific to you and your needs, but you can get an idea of how often you’ll need to see your OB/Gyn:
- First Trimester (weeks 0-12) - once a month
- Second Trimester (weeks 13-26) - every two weeks
- Third Trimester (weeks 27-40) - every week until delivery
It’s extremely important to maintain these appointments so your doctor can monitor your health and your baby’s health throughout your pregnancy.
What to Expect at Your First Prenatal Appointment
Your OB/Gyn will need to gather a lot of information at your first prenatal appointment. You should be ready to provide your medical history, including:
- Blood pressure, height, and weight
- Date of last menstrual period
- Birth control methods
- History of abortions and/or miscarriages
- Breast exam
- Cervical exam
- Medical problems
- Psychological problems
- Medication allergies
- Family medical history
In addition to asking about your history, your OB/Gyn will give you an exam, including:
- Pap smear
- Cervical cultures
- Ultrasound (if necessary)
- Blood draw with lab tests for: Rh factor and blood type (if Rh negative, rescreen at 26-28 weeks), rubella screen, varicella or history of chickenpox, rubella, and hepatitis vaccine, Cystic Fibrosis screen, Hepatitis B surface antigen, Tay Sachs screen, Sickle Cell prep screen, HIV test, hemoglobin levels, hematocrit levels, and specific tests depending on the patient, such as tuberculosis and Hepatitis C.
Your OB/Gyn will also have recommendations for precautions to take and what to avoid to help ensure a safe pregnancy. Your OB/Gyn may discuss diet, fevers and medications, environmental hazards, travel limitations, prenatal vitamins, and exercise. Since every body and every pregnancy is different, follow your doctor’s recommendations rather than what worked for a friend or someone online.
What You Should Ask Your Doctor
You should ask your OB/Gyn any and all questions you have to help you have a safe and healthy pregnancy. If you’re unsure of what to ask, these prenatal appointment questions will get you started.
- Who do I contact for a non-emergency question? You should know who your go to contact will be before you find yourself worried about bugging your OB/Gyn with too many questions. You need all your questions answered and stressing about who to call could delay potentially serious questions or send you online for answers that might not be accurate. Your doctor may want you to call a nurse, the clinic, or email for non-emergency situations.
- What warning signs should I look for that might signal an emergency? You aren’t expected to automatically know the difference between an emergency and non emergency in your pregnancy--you can ask your doctor what they consider an emergency. Hopefully you’ll never need to recognize any of the warning signs, but being prepared could make a huge difference in the health and safety of you and your baby.
- Where should I go for a medical emergency? Your OB/Gyn will have guidance on when you should go to the clinic and when you should go to the hospital. Asking these questions makes sure you’re prepared to act quickly in the event of a medical emergency.
- Do I need to make any changes to my lifestyle? There are likely to be some aspects of your lifestyle you need to change for your pregnancy. A lot of those potential changes, like exercise or work, depend on you and how your pregnancy goes. You might be able to continue to exercise as you always have with minor modifications but you should check everything with your OB/Gyn first. Changes to working again depend on your pregnancy as well as your specific work environment. Other changes, such as drinking alcohol or smoking, are more or less guaranteed to be necessary.
- What foods and drinks should I avoid? Your OB/Gyn can give you a list of foods and drinks (for example, raw sushi and caffeine) that you should avoid during your pregnancy. Your doctor can also explain why you need to avoid each item.
A Look at Your Next Nine Months
Changes Every Week
Your baby is growing all the time and with that growth comes changes to your body and how you feel. Knowing what to expect and preparing in advance can help ease your pregnancy and tell you what your growing baby needs along the way. You can use a week-by-week pregnancy calendar to learn what’s going on with your baby and learn how to keep you and your baby healthy the whole time.
First Trimester - Months One, Two, and Three
Starting with your positive pregnancy test, your life will start to look different--even in these first three months. The fourth week of your pregnancy is when a pregnancy test can start to detect your pregnancy.
Folic acid supplements are extremely important during this time. Folic acid helps prevent defects in the neural tube, which is the structure which develops into your baby’s spinal cord and brain. Taking folic acid supplements throughout the time you’re trying to get pregnant is also important if possible.
In addition to folic acid, you should intake lots of protein, calcium, and iron, all essential for your baby’s development.
The first trimester is when you might experience the symptoms of pregnancy such as nausea, tiredness, or tingling or aching breasts. These symptoms occur as a result of the embryo creating a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin which helps maintain your uterine lining.
At around week 10, your OB/Gyn will do an ultrasound and you’ll be able to see your baby’s heartbeat.
In the last couple weeks of your first trimester you’ll start to have options for genetic testing. These tests can reveal chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus. Not everyone chooses to get these tests--it’s up to you and your doctor to decide if you’ll have these tests done.
The decision of when to share the news of your pregnancy with your friends and family is completely up to you. Generally it is recommended to wait until the end of your first trimester before you share the news widely--after the first 13 weeks chances of miscarriage are reduced.
Some women prefer to have friends and family in on the big news right from the start with the promise of lots of support in the case of a miscarriage. Who you tell and when you tell them is totally up to you.
Second Trimester - Months Four, Five, and Six
In your second trimester you can start looking for and enroll in a childbirth education class. These classes are usually between six and 12 weeks long and you should plan on finishing it before your 37th week in case of early labor. You can expect to give birth anywhere from week 38 to week 42--due dates are only an estimation based on your last menstrual period.
In addition to childbirth class, you can make a birth plan and tour the hospital where you’ll give birth. You can get everything ready now so you’re fully prepared for your baby’s birth when the time comes.
You can start planning for the time after your baby is born now as well. Start setting up your nursery, baby proofing your home, and stocking up on supplies like diapers and baby clothes. Your baby will be home with you sooner than you think and you want to be fully prepared.
The second trimester is also a good time to talk to your boss about maternity leave. It’s good for you and your job to plan in advance to make sure everything will be taken care of while you’re gone.
Another good thing to plan for at this point is a pediatrician for your baby. You should give yourself time so you can find a doctor you feel comfortable with. Some good questions to ask pediatricians when you meet them are:
- How many doctors are in the practice?
- Who covers nights and weekends?
- Who should I contact for non emergency questions?
- How are emergencies handled?
- Which hospitals and specialists are they affiliated with?
- What insurance do they accept?
These questions are similar to the ones you will ask your OB/Gyn at the beginning of your pregnancy, which makes sense. You want to know and trust all the health care providers involved in your baby’s health and wellbeing.
Somewhere around week 18 or 20 you may start feeling your baby move. Every baby moves differently, but if you’re concerned about your baby’s movement or you notice a change in the movement you can talk to your OB/Gyn.
If you choose, you can also find out the sex of your baby during the second trimester.
In the last few weeks of your second trimester you might start experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions. These contractions are your uterus getting ready to deliver your baby. If these contractions become more intense, painful, and frequent you should contact your doctor in case of preterm labor.
Third Trimester - Months Seven, Eight, and Nine
In your third trimester you’ll be in the final stretch getting as ready as possible to bring your baby into the world. If this is your first baby, taking a child care class may make you more comfortable and confident. You can also find classes on breastfeeding and infant CPR.
Make sure you have everything you need in order to bring your baby home. For example, the hospital needs proof that you have a correctly installed car seat meeting current safety standards before you will be allowed to leave with your baby.
By the third trimester your baby should be moving an average of 10 times in 2 hours. If your baby is not moving this much you should check in with your doctor.
The final few weeks of your pregnancy will be mostly trying to rest as much as possible and looking for signs of labor. You can lose your mucus plug up to a few weeks before labor and many women don’t have their water break until well into labor--the signs of labor look different for everyone.
Pay attention to what’s going on with your body and your baby and talk with your doctor frequently. The most important thing indicating labor will be contractions. True labor contractions are regular and increase in frequency.
Now it’s time for step one: a doctor’s appointment! You’re armed with what to expect at your first prenatal appointment and what your next nine months will look like--you’re ready for a safe and healthy pregnancy.