Your first prenatal visit: what to expect

It’s normal to have so many questions – write them down and bring them in

Your first prenatal visit: what to expect

Prenatal care is essential for the health of you and your baby. As soon as you find out you’re pregnant, it’s time to get your first prenatal visit scheduled.

If you and your partner are wanting support as you plan for pregnancy, preconception appointments are a great option for understanding what you can do to prepare for a healthy pregnancy and baby once they arrive.

During prenatal visits, you will get counseling and guidance on many aspects of pregnancy. This includes proper weight management, exercise, nutrition, and overall health.

You and your baby will also have tests to check for any possible risks and to treat any complications. Tests will also be done to keep an eye on your baby’s growth and development.

Elizabeth Brown, M.D., is an OB/GYN at Sanford West Dickinson Clinic in North Dakota who is part of a team providing prenatal care and counseling for those who are pregnant. We asked her to walk us through what first-time parents can expect as they advance toward the birth of their child.

When should you schedule your first prenatal appointment?

At Sanford, your first prenatal visit is scheduled as early as eight to 10 weeks into your pregnancy.

For normal pregnancies without major complications, prenatal exams are often scheduled as follows:

  • Every four weeks after the new OB visit until the 28th week of pregnancy
  • Every two weeks from the 29th week through the 36th week of pregnancy
  • Weekly from the 37th week until delivery

This schedule may vary depending on your health and your health care provider’s preference. You may need more prenatal care if you have an existing health condition, like diabetes. You may also need more care if problems come up during your pregnancy.

“The patients will usually call in when they have a positive pregnancy test,” Dr. Brown said. “Our OB scheduler will then get the patient set up for a visit. If there are concerns like bleeding, nausea or vomiting – or it’s a high-risk pregnancy and you need to review medications – we’ll offer an early OB appointment for additional consultation.”

What can you expect at your first prenatal visit?

The Sanford team for prenatal care typically can include an OB/GYN, a family physician, nurse practitioner, certified nurse-midwife or, in the case of high-risk pregnancies, a perinatologist, or maternal-fetal medicine specialist.

At a typical prenatal visit, you may have any or all of these:

  • Review of your health history
  • Get your first look at baby, including measuring their fetal heart rate and measuring your uterus to check for proper growth
  • Blood pressure test
  • Physical exam to find problems or discomforts, like swelling of the hands and feet, with a pap smear and check for gonorrhea and chlamydia
  • A urine culture at the start of pregnancy
  • Prenatal screening tests like blood tests to check for anemia

The first visit begins most often with a nurse about a half-hour prior to the doctor’s visit. During the meeting with the nurse, you go through your medical history. Your prenatal record is initiated and the basics – height, weight and blood pressure – are recorded.

Dr. Brown’s conversation with her patients commonly begins with questions and answers. She will then cover the routine obstetrical care you can expect in the coming weeks and months.

“We’ll discuss not just the routine OB labs but also whether they desire any genetic screening for the baby or the carrier screening for themselves,” Dr. Brown said.

“We’ll do a basic physical that will include listening to their heart and lungs, and we try to listen to the baby with a Doppler – though that depends on how far along the patient is. We’ll also do a bedside ultrasound to check for heart motion if too early for a Doppler.”

What questions should you be ready to answer?

As the patient, you should be prepared to answer questions about your medical history. It can also be helpful to know your family’s medical history as well as the medical history of the other parent.

If there are lifestyle concerns – smoking, drinking or drug use, for instance – or occupational concerns, you should tell your doctor what they are.

Other questions you should be prepared to answer:

  • What medications are you taking?
  • Are you taking herbal supplements?
  • Are you allergic to any medications?
  • When was your last period?

What questions should you ask your provider?

Dr. Brown encourages patients to come to the first visit with an actual list of questions.

“You should make some notes or bring in a list of questions and concerns,” she said. “Often times you’ll be at your appointment and be all caught up in it and you’ll forget to ask about something. If you have a list with you, that won’t happen.”

According to, you may want to ask these questions at your first visit:

  • How should I think about my exercise routine during my pregnancy?
  • What should I know about sex during pregnancy?
  • Based on my medical history, does it appear that I’m at risk for any complications?
  • How long can I travel? Can I go on an international trip?
  • What symptoms are not considered normal and warrant an immediate call to your office?
  • What medicine can I take?
  • What foods do I really need to avoid? What is OK in moderation?
  • What beauty products should I steer clear of?
  • What are weight gain expectations for this pregnancy?
  • What can I do for constipation and hemorrhoids?

Why is prenatal care so important?

Having a healthy, monitored pregnancy is the best way to promote a healthy birth and baby.

It is important to evaluate risk factors and to make any interventions that could impact your pregnancy. Giving a provider this opportunity can dramatically reduce potential complications.

“Establishing care early in the pregnancy is how we can keep the mother and baby as healthy as possible,” Dr. Brown said. “We try to help guide people who have any questions or concerns right from the get-go. With our patients we’re in kind of a partnership that we try to establish to help them have the healthiest and safest pregnancy as possible.”

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Posted In Health Information, Pregnancy, Women's