Preconception care includes the care a woman receives before pregnancy and between pregnancies. The physician, usually an obstetrician – gynecologist, will review social behaviors in addition to biomedical history and current health status of a female patient of childbearing age. The goal of preconception care is to detect and treat any potential risks or adverse physical conditions prior to pregnancy that may affect her health and the health of her baby.
Folic acid is a B vitamin known to prevent certain birth defects called neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida. Studies have shown that 70 percent of all NTDs could be prevented if women consumed adequate amounts of folic acid before pregnancy and during the first trimester. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends 400 micrograms of folic acid daily for women of childbearing age. Women can take the recommended amount in the form of a multi-vitamin. Additionally, they can make healthy food choices to obtain the necessary amount of this crucial B vitamin. Green leafy vegetables, legumes, dried beans, and oranges contain folate, folic acid in its natural form.
Women planning to get pregnant may be tested for immunity to Rubella and Chickenpox. Immunity is determined by a blood test. If not immune, the doctor may prescribe vaccinations for these diseases as they can cause birth defects in babies during pregnancy. Health care workers and others working in jobs that put them at high risk for contracting hepatitis B should get vaccinated before becoming pregnant as well. Hepatitis B can be passed on to the baby during delivery.
Women over the age of 35, couples with a history of genetic disorder in their families, women who have had a baby with an NTD should see a genetic counselor to discuss the risk of genetic disorders or birth defects in their future offspring.
Women, who use illicit drugs, smoke cigarettes, or habitually use alcohol, should stop or seek treatment if they cannot stop on their own. The use of drugs, alcohol, and smoking cigarettes during pregnancy can cause defects and a number of complications for the mother and baby.
Prenatal care is the care a woman receives while pregnant, but involves so much more. The purpose is to monitor the pregnancy as it progresses and baby grows and to determine if any risks to mother or baby exist. Upon identifying a risk, physicians can control it before it becomes a true health concern for mother and baby. During the exam, the doctor will record the mother's weight, blood pressure, take a urine sample, and discuss medications she takes.
While every pregnancy is different, OB/GYNs usually see mothers-to-be once a month for the first six months of pregnancy, then twice a month until the last month. Finally, in the last month, mother and baby will visit with the obstetrician once per week.
Postnatal care occurs in the period after delivery. With an uncomplicated vaginal birth, duration of hospital stay is usually one to two days. For cesarean sections, hospital stay can be three to four days or longer. During this time, healthcare professionals monitor baby's health, help mom care for the infant, and monitor mom's bleeding as well as her bowel movements. The obstetrician will want to see the mother a few weeks after delivery as well. For C-sections and other complicated deliveries, the doctor may require more frequent visits until mom's health status is stabilized.