Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies: Reasons for Keeping Prenatal Appointments
by Megan Corn
With summer's endless activities, expectant mothers are easily distracted from attending their upcoming prenatal doctor appointments, typically numbering about 15 appointments throughout the nine months of pregnancy. Because complications can develop at any time – even if prior pregnancies progressed perfectly – each visit is important so healthcare providers can review medications, order blood tests, and look for important pregnancy-related medical conditions.
Hundreds of prescription drugs and supplements are unsafe for baby during pregnancy, so healthcare providers review vitamin and medication use at almost every visit. However, prenatal vitamins are recommended for all pregnant women – and even for women who are planning to become pregnant. These vitamins are chock-full of important substances including iron, calcium, and folic acid that help the baby grow. When taken daily during and before a planned pregnancy, vitamins such as folic acid prevent birth defects, one of which is spina bifida, a condition that prevents a baby's backbones from developing properly, leaving the spinal cord unprotected.
Two medical conditions that can occur during not just the first pregnancy – but during any following pregnancy – are preeclampsia and gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). Preeclampsia is identified by checking blood pressure and urine samples at appointments. Preeclampsia leads to very high blood pressure and also causes the mother's kidneys to leak protein in the urine. In addition, the condition can affect the blood and oxygen flow to the baby, leading to harmful effects if not treated. If the preeclampsia is detected at any of the prenatal visits, action will be taken to keep mom and baby healthy.
The second medical condition, GDM, is different from the other types of diabetes that can happen in men or women at any age. Many women who usually have normal blood sugar can develop high blood sugar during pregnancy. The condition can cause very large babies whose size can complicate delivery. Additionally, after birth, these babies can have their own blood sugar problems. Testing for GDM is done several months before delivery to see if blood sugars are going to be above normal levels. The mother will drink a sugary drink and her blood sugar is tested after one hour. If diagnosed, treatment may only require dietary changes, but sometimes medication is needed.
An optional blood test chosen by some moms is called the Quad screen and checks for several genetic abnormalities, such as Down Syndrome. The screen is done on the mother's blood sometime between the fourth to sixth months of pregnancy. If the Quad screen is positive for an abnormality, this knowledge helps parents plan for their baby's needs before they arrive. Providers can also prepare for special needs during labor, be prepared for potential delivery complications and needed after-delivery care.
These are just a few of many tests that can happen at prenatal visits. It is worth mentioning again the importance of keeping every appointment to identify pregnancy-related conditions as early as possible.
About the Author
Megan Corn is a second-year medical student at the University of North Dakota (UND) School of Medicine & Health Sciences and participates in the Indians Into Medicine program. She writes this article as part of UND's Targeted Rural Health Education (TRHE) project. TRHE teaches student doctors the importance of collaborating with rural newspaper partners to provide community health information. The information in this article is not for diagnosis or treatment and should not be used in place of medical advice provided by a licensed practitioner.