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Your Guide to Pregnancy Checkups

The most important factor in nurturing a healthy baby is a complete program of prenatal care. During these regularly scheduled checkups, your doctor will monitor your baby's growth and your own health, treating any problems as soon as they arise. You and your caregiver will become close partners over the next nine months, so it's critical that you choose someone you trust.

Ob-gyns specialize in the reproductive care of women and are the first choice of the majority of women in America. Still, all doctors have different personalities and varying opinions about some procedures. Feeling comfortable with your ob-gyn's manner and philosophy will help ensure a good experience. Ask friends or relatives for the names of doctors they like.

Certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) are registered nurses who are trained to care for women and their babies through pregnancy and the postpartum weeks. These professionals can treat healthy women with normal pregnancies but must have an arrangement with a doctor to provide backup in the event of medical problems.

Getting to know you Your first visit to the doctor should occur as soon as you suspect you're pregnant. Your physician will take an extensive medical history of you and the baby's father, including your menstrual history, any previous pregnancies, and diseases or genetic disorders that might run in either family. You'll also talk about any habits you may have that could pose a danger to your baby, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or using drugs. All information will be kept confidential.

In addition, your doctor will examine you, conduct lab tests, determine your due date, and begin to chart your weight gain. You may be given a prescription for a prenatal vitamin, along with nutrition and exercise advice.

How often you'll go to the doctor depends on your individual circumstances. A typical pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks and is divided into three trimesters. You'll probably be seen once a month during the first and second trimesters. Starting at about 28 weeks, you'll go every two weeks, and then weekly from 36 weeks until you deliver. Women at higher risk of complications require more-frequent checkups. These women may have had difficulty conceiving or carrying a baby, be over age 35, be carrying multiple fetuses, have a higher risk of birth defects, or have conditions such as gestational diabetes.

At each checkup, your doctor will test your urine to ensure that sugar and protein levels are appropriate. The doctor will also chart your weight gain, check your blood pressure, examine your hands and feet for swelling, measure the size of your uterus, and check the baby's heartbeat. These visits will also give you a chance to discuss the many questions you'll have. Keep a list so you don't forget to ask anything that's been on your mind.

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