This post was written by Erin Norton, director of community outreach, Parkview Women’s & Children’s Hospital.
According to the Indiana State Department of Health, in 2016 only 38.5 percent of Allen County women began receiving prenatal care in the first trimester of their pregnancy. There are countless reasons why this might be occurring, such as a lack of transportation, women might not realize they are pregnant or perhaps they are unsure about their insurance coverage. Some women may not see the value in prenatal care, likely because they feel healthy and pregnancy is a natural process. However, high quality prenatal care is extremely important to a healthy pregnancy, a healthy baby and ultimately, it can set the stage for better health across a woman’s lifespan.
What is prenatal care?
Prenatal care appointments should begin during the first trimester and occur regularly. As the pregnancy progresses, the appointments will become more frequent.
Prenatal care includes a comprehensive patient history, physical examinations, lab tests, screenings and education. Some things, like blood pressure or height and weight, are quick and easy, but patients shouldn’t let the ease of these tests take away from their importance. For example, high blood pressure may be an early sign of a condition call preeclampsia. If this is a problem, early detection is critical.
It may take weeks or months for a woman to really feel comfortable with her care team. This relationship is best fostered by getting to know one another over time. Another thing to remember is that every pregnancy is different. Just because something wasn’t an issue in one pregnancy doesn’t mean it won’t happen the next time around.
More than a care plan
A comprehensive health history provides the care team with valuable information on potential risk factors for the patient. Previous pregnancy outcomes, past surgeries and family history can all influence the plan of care. A person’s health does not begin and end inside the clinic or hospital walls. It is becoming more common for providers to assess things like access to fresh fruits and vegetables, social support and exercise habits, which all influence health.
Prenatal care is a time for learning. Some foods aren’t recommended for pregnant women. Some medications are safe, and some are not. While websites, friends and family members may offer advice, it might not be the most accurate or up-to-date. Prenatal care appointments provide one-on-one time with an expert to ask these important questions.
For many women, pregnancy is motivation to become healthier. Knowing that their lifestyle is also affecting their baby, women are often open to doing things like improving their diets or quitting tobacco use. We are fortunate that Fort Wayne has many resources available to help moms on this journey, but many women don’t know what all is available. Connections to resources and health improvements made during prenatal care can have affects that go far beyond the nine months of pregnancy.
Care beyond delivery
While the birth of the baby does not signal the end of care, studies show that about 40 percent of women do not attend a postpartum visit to their care team. Postpartum care is important because it gives women and their care providers an opportunity to discuss family planning, review any complications that may have occurred, address ongoing chronic health issues and assess mental health concerns.
Prenatal care is important because it affects both the mother’s and the baby’s health. Pregnancy is also a pivotal time in a woman’s life and quality care and support during the prenatal period may allow for better health far beyond her pregnancy.