Your Pregnancy

What to Expect at Your First Prenatal Appointment

There's no reason to worry when you know what to expect.
Dyanne Harvey

From the moment that precious pink line appears on your home pregnancy test, your mind might transform into a running to-do list.

One of the first things on your list should be calling to schedule an appointment with your doctor. If you haven’t yet chosen an OB/GYN, it’s okay. But, be sure to visit a pregnancy caregiver anyway. You can continue your doctor search and commit to one once you’ve found a great match. For now, cover your bases.

Unless there is a medical concern, your very first prenatal appointment will be scheduled for your 8th week of pregnancy. Also, this will be the longest appointment of them all because there are numerous things for your doctor to cover. Plus, you might have a thousand questions, so most doctors plan for this barrage.

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Here’s the scoop on what will happen during your first prenatal appointment.

What Your Physical Exam Will Include

As well as being the longest, this will likely be one of the most hands-on appointments you have during your pregnancy. Here’s why.

Gather Basic Information

Urine Sample – Get used to peeing in a cup, because you’re going to be doing a lot of it during your pregnancy. Most doctors require a urine sample each appointment, the first one included. A urine sample is primarily administered so your doctor can asses your bladder and screen for abnormal levels in your system.

Height and Weight – Before you ever see your doctor, a nurse will weigh you and verify your height. If you’re like most women, you’re not too keen on getting weighed in front of a bunch of people, even if it is medical staff. But, keep in mind you are pregnant and you are expected to gain weight. In fact, weight gain is a staple way to gauge the health of your pregnancy. So, keep your cool on the scale, mama.

Blood Pressure – Most doctors will check your blood pressure at every prenatal visit starting with the very first one. The reasoning behind this is to help them catch and treat preeclampsia should it impact your pregnancy later on. Preeclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure, can quickly escalade from a mild problem to a life-threatening issue. So, forgive a little hyper-vigilance on the doctor’s part.

A Regular Physical – Just like it sounds, your doctor will check out your physique from head to toe investigating any signs of a physical problem. When it comes to a regular physical, the standard is different from one doctor to the next. Some are extremely thorough while others are brief. Many like to hear your feedback about your health and others want to just check you out for themselves. Should you have any bodily concerns, pregnancy-related or not, be sure to voice them to your doctor.

Breast and Cervical Exam

Clinical Breast Exam – A clinical breast exam will be completed during your first prenatal visit. What this means, is that your doctor will examine each breast thoroughly. Looking for any abnormal changes to the breast shape or skin, your doctor will likely check your nipple and even the area under your arm pit. Of course, during the exam, your doctor will be asking you questions left and right. So, listen attentively. Furthermore, this might be a great time to learn how to do a breast self-exam if you’ve not learned that yet.

Full Cervical Exam – Mostly checking for abnormalities and signs of infection in your cervix and vagina, your doctor will perform a cervical exam during your first appointment. Thankfully, this won’t be the case at every visit. Your cervix will most definitely be the star of the show now and in the coming months, as well. For now, your doctor will assess its general shape and makeup. Your uterus will be examined, too. Many doctors assess the pubic bones to foresee any challenges with your birthing canal. Doing this might help them to suggest a certain delivery method. Lastly, a Pap smear test will also be completed.

Blood Taken for Testing

Your doctor will also require one or more vials of your blood to be tested. Like many other happenings during this first prenatal visit, a blood test isn’t routine for each visit. Although each doctor is slightly different, here are some of the most common tests:

  • Blood type
  • Rh Factor
  • Hemoglobin
  • Hematocrit
  • Rubella (German measles) screen
  • Hepatitis B
  • Syphilis
  • HIV test
  • Chicken pox
  • Glucose challenge test
  • Cystic Fibrosis screen
  • Tay Sach’s screen
  • Sickle Cell prep screen
  • Tuberculosis and Hepatitis C (specific tests for certain patients)

What Your Doctor Will Ask You

To better asses your overall health and estimate the overall outlook for your pregnancy, you’ll be answering a lot of questions from your doctor. Remember that your doctor is only asking such personal questions to help care for you and your baby, so be 100% honest.

Last Menstrual Cycle

Most likely, the very first questions your doctor will ask will be all about your menstrual cycle. So, be prepared to provide details.

The reason why your menstrual cycle is so important is because that’s how your doctor determines your due date. Most doctors calculate it by adding 40 weeks to the first day of your last menstrual period (assuming a typical 28-day cycle). So, the two weeks before you ever conceive are known as the first and second official weeks of pregnancy.

As well as knowing your menstrual cycle dates, your doctor will want to know if you’ve had normal cycles, the average length, and any issues you might have faced regarding your menstrual cycle. Your doctor will likely cover past gynecological problems such as sexually transmitted diseases or any general concerns you might have.

Medical History

After getting the lowdown on your menstrual cycle, your doctor will dive right into your medical history. He or she will inquire about any surgeries or hospitalizations, serious injuries or illnesses, medications you’re taking (including illegal drugs), allergies, and if you have a history of abortions or miscarriages.

Many women like to have this information at their fingertips for this appointment because it is a lot of information to dish out. Don’t be shy about bringing a list with you to help jog your memory on all this medical history. After all, some of it can go many years back making the information difficult to recall.

Lastly, your doctor will ask you about your most recent birth control method as well as when you had your last breast and cervical exam.

Mental Health History

Thankfully, due to medical advancements, doctors acknowledge a woman’s mental wellness nearly as much as her physical well-being. Given its importance, your doctor will probably follow questions regarding your physical history with questions about your psychological history.

Remember that it’s vital to your health and the health of your baby that you are completely honest with your doctor. Now is the time to debrief your doctor on anything related to your mental health.

This could mean telling him or her about your struggle with an eating disorder, your battle with chronic depression, or even that you tend to feel anxious at work a lot. Many times, women disregard their feelings and put them to the side for one reason or another. It’s a good idea to do some introspecting before your appointment and take stock in how you really feel.

Family Medical and Mental Health History

Once your doctor knows your physical and mental history, he or she will ask about your family’s history, as well. Your doctor will want to know whether any of your relatives have faced any serious or chronic diseases.

Many of these health issues can be hereditary, so it’s important to your doctor to uncover those genetic abnormalities that could be problematic. This includes any mental struggles or diseases.

As well as your family’s history, your doctor will want to know the family history of your baby’s father. Depending on your situation, acquiring this information might be a little more tricky than gathering your own. Just do the best you can, and your doctor will thank you.

Things You and Your Doctor will Discuss

woman at her first prenatal appointment

Aside from all the official medical history, you and your doctor will also talk about practical things.

Nurse Hotline

If your doctor is like most, he or she will give you the contact information for a nurse hotline. You can call this hotline should you have any non-emergency questions that pop up in between appointments.

What to Do in an Emergency

Although the nurse hotline isn’t meant for emergency situations, your doctor will know that it’s always good to plan for the unexpected. He or she will talk to you about what is considered an emergency and when you need to go to the ER versus when to simply call the doctor’s office.

Some doctors will even send you home with a list of symptoms considered urgent. Keep this list handy in case you experience any of the symptoms.

Personal Habits

After disclosing your current lifestyle to your doctor, you two will likely discuss any personal habits that you need to change. Things like smoking, alcohol consumption, physical labor, or dieting habits might be on target.

Along with personal habits, your doctor will review topics such as sex, nutrition, exercise, and even job functions. Your doctor will address everyday habits in this conversation. Like many other topics, he or she will probably send home a cheat sheet for you to reference when it comes to knowing what’s okay and what’s not.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Like a grocery list hanging on the fridge, many women have a running list of questions to bring to their doctor on the next visit. You’ll find being pregnant, things you used to remember now elude you. So, the running list of questions isn’t a bad idea.

Next Prenatal Visit

Verify when you need to schedule your next appointment. And be sure to ask what exactly it will entail. It’s always good to know what’s coming at a prenatal visit.

What Tests Your Doctor Favors

Different doctors favor different prenatal tests. Some are very supportive of genetic testing while others aren’t. Ask your doctor what type of testing he or she recommends. Also, ask when you need to have the tests done.

If you’re not sure what the tests are then this will give you time to do your research. Understanding a particular test will help you to decide if its right for you. Your doctor’s opinion serves as a baseline for research and developing your own opinion on the matter.

Doctor’s Views on Labor and Delivery

It’s essential for you and your doctor to be on the same page regarding labor and delivery. Most importantly, it’s vital for you to know what you want and for your doctor to be on board.

Ask about your doctor’s views on things like natural childbirth, Cesareans, episiotomies, going past your due date, and labor induction.

You probably aren’t sure what exactly you want at this point either, but again, use your doctor’s opinion as a baseline for determining your own.

Although your first prenatal appointment will probably be lengthy, it will be one of the most important visits. A great tip is simply to be as prepared as you can. Not only will preparation help the appointment to go more smoothly, but it will guarantee that you start your pregnancy out on the right path.

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