A pregnant woman getting her blood pressure checked at an important prenatal care visit with her doctor

Why Prenatal Care Visits Are So Important

By Stacey Feintuch
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
December 15, 2023
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Maybe you feel fine. Or you’re busy. Or your doctor’s office is far away. Or you don’t love going there. But there’s no good reason to skip prenatal appointments. They’re important for your health and your baby’s health too.

As early as possible in your pregnancy, you should find a doctor or midwife to provide your prenatal care. They’ll give you a schedule of visits for routine prenatal care, based on your health history.

It’s vital to follow that schedule closely throughout your pregnancy. There are a few reasons regular prenatal care is important for you and your baby.

Prenatal Care Visits Help Prevent Problems

“You want to be on top of your appointments,” says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.

“Things may be happening that you’re unaware are going on. Things could be impacting the baby’s health that you may not notice.”

Those include issues that could cause preterm birth, stillbirth, and delivery complications.

A few examples of prenatal care preventing problems include:

  • Catching health concerns like anemia or vitamin D deficiency. “Both of these conditions can easily be treated and can impact you emotionally and physically,” says Jeni Rector, a certified midwife at the Village Midwife and Birth Center in Newport News, Virginia.
  • Monitoring fetal growth, amniotic fluid levels, and blood flow between the fetus and the placenta. “Picking up any problems during pregnancy can help your healthcare provider decide whether labor should be induced early,” says Kelly Culwell, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn who practices in San Diego.
  • Testing for Group B Strep, a common bacteria in the vagina. This bacteria can cause serious infections in newborn babies. So pregnant people with Group B Strep need to be treated with antibiotics during labor to prevent transmission to the baby.

Catching Prenatal Health Issues Early Is Key

It’s not enough to just go to a few appointments. Routine prenatal care throughout the pregnancy helps your doctor or midwife catch issues that could turn into serious problems.

“Some problems are much easier to deal with when discovered early,” says Minkin.

She gives the example of preeclampsia, which is a high blood pressure condition. It’s a serious pregnancy complication that poses dangerous risks. But blood pressure checks at prenatal visits help doctors find signs early. If the condition is found early, a provider can take steps to help protect you and your baby.

Other checks include urine tests for signs of infection and blood tests for gestational diabetes. These can happen even if you don’t have any symptoms. Another prenatal care example is measuring your belly to check on the baby’s growth and fluid level.

Things Are Constantly Changing

Your body is changing—and your baby is developing rapidly. Even if your pregnancy started with no issues, or you’ve given birth without complications before, things can change.

“Even with a healthy pregnancy, we don’t know when complications can arise,” says Lori Anderson, a certified nurse-midwife at University of Missouri Ob/Gyn Associates at Women’s Hospital in Columbia. Preeclampsia, for example, can show up quickly. “It can occur from one day to the next,” Anderson says.

You Can Stay on Top of Prenatal Testing

Prenatal tests help providers learn valuable information about you and your baby’s health. Each test has its own timing throughout the pregnancy. The provider will guide you on what tests you need when you need them.

For example, early in pregnancy, you’ll get screened for your blood type, any STDs, anemia, and vitamin deficiencies. If there are any issues, you can be treated for them.

In the third trimester, you’ll get screened for gestational diabetes and Group B strep. These medical conditions are important to treat as well, says Minkin.

You’ll Learn a Lot

Prenatal appointments can be educational.

“You can learn what to expect as your pregnancy progresses, what is normal, when to seek medical care, and what to expect during the delivery,” says Culwell. “You can also learn a lot about staying healthy during pregnancy.”

It’s a good idea to bring a list of questions for your provider to answer.

You’ll Have Support for Your Mental Health

Anderson says her practice screens patients for prenatal depression, and they see it often.

If there’s a mental health concern, your provider can help you find support. They may also be able to prescribe you treatment, such as antidepressants.

Minkin adds that screening for depression can also prevent postpartum depression. “We can intervene early and warn the family so they can know what to pay attention to after delivery,” she says.

Prenatal Visit FAQs

How often are prenatal visits?

Here are answers to a few common questions pregnant people ask about their prenatal care:

How often are prenatal visits?

For a typical pregnancy, prenatal care visits happen about:

  • Once a month in trimesters 1 and 2 (up to week 27)
  • Once every 2 to 3 weeks during week 28 through week 36
  • Once a week from week 36 until you give birth

That’s according to prenatal care guidelines for an uncomplicated pregnancy. Your schedule may be different if you have a reason for your doctor to monitor you more closely. This could include having diabetes, carrying multiples or another high-risk pregnancy concern, Rector says.

Also, keep in mind that you may have additional appointments for tests and/or screenings.

Can I skip prenatal appointments?

No, you shouldn’t skip prenatal appointments. Your doctor or midwife has a list of important things to check at every stage of your pregnancy. So getting to each visit is key.

“Life sometimes gets in the way of us taking the best care of our health,” Culwell says. Make it easier on yourself by scheduling your appointments for more convenient times, requesting time off work, and lining up transportation in advance, if you need it.

If you do skip a prenatal appointment, reschedule it as soon as possible because tests and evaluations are most useful at certain points in pregnancy, Culwell says.

How many doctor’s appointments are there during pregnancy?

It can vary from person to person, but you’ll probably have around 14 or more doctor visits during pregnancy. This doesn’t include any additional screening, testing, or monitoring you and your baby will need, Rector says.

What are the consequences of having no prenatal care?

If you have no prenatal care, consequences can be serious.

“You may have absolutely nothing wrong,” says Rector. “You have a beautiful birth and everyone carries on like normal. But, it could be devastating.”

For example, learning at the time of delivery that a baby is breech would require an unplanned c-section. A baby could have seizures if gestational diabetes is left untreated.

“Babies of mothers who do not get prenatal care are three times more likely to have a low birth weight and five times more likely to die than those born to mothers who receive prenatal care,” says Rector.

Going to every prenatal appointment might not always be easy. But the importance of prenatal care makes it worth it. Your and your baby’s health and safety depend on it.

Plus, each visit can help you feel more confident about delivering a healthy baby. “The medical part takes five minutes,” Rector says. “It’s talking and asking questions and getting to know each other that takes up the rest of the time. It’s so worth it.”

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