Your Guide to Prenatal Appointments: When, What and How to Get the Most Out of Each Visit

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
January 26, 2024

Congratulations, Mama! Pregnancy is such an exciting time in life. From choosing a name, to your baby shower to setting up the nursery there is lots of fun to be had.

But if you’re here, you know that getting on a prenatal appointment schedule right away is important for you and baby’s health.

But if this is your first pregnancy, or the details from your last pregnancy already seem a bit foggy, you’re probably wondering: How often are prenatal appointments exactly? What happens at all of those prenatal appointments? And when do I need to schedule my first prenatal visit?

That’s why I’m sharing this complete guide to prenatal appointments with you today. You can find information about:

  • Prenatal appointment frequency
  • What happens at a typical prenatal appointment
  • What to know about your first prenatal visit
  • What happens at prenatal appointments during each trimester
  • When to expect ultrasounds and other ‘milestone’ prenatal visits throughout your pregnancy
  • How to prepare for and get the most out of each prenatal visit
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Prenatal Appointment Overview

While the frequency of your prenatal visits does change in the third trimester, some things about your prenatal visits stay pretty consistent throughout your entire pregnancy.

Let’s find out what you can expect from each visit and how often they happen.

How Often will I have Prenatal visits?

You should call to schedule your first prenatal appointment as soon as you have a positive pregnancy test. They likely won’t have you come in until around 10 weeks, but you’ll want to get on the schedule right away.

In a low-risk pregnancy the typical appointment schedule is:

  • Weeks 4-28: Prenatal appointment every 4 weeks
  • Weeks 28-36: Prenatal appointment every 2 weeks
  • Week 36-Birth: Prenatal appointment every week

Why might I have more frequent prenatal visits?

There are some reasons that you may need to go to prenatal appointments more frequently than the normal schedule. This might include having pre-existing medical conditions, risk of preterm labor, being over the age of 35, or if any complications or concerns arise as your pregnancy progresses.

Why are prenatal appointments important?

If you added up the above section, you might realize that is around 15 appointments during your pregnancy. And if you are fortunate enough to have a pregnancy that progresses without complications, those appointments can feel pretty repetitive. But you don’t want to skip these!

Prenatal care is very important for you and your baby’s health. Regular check-ins with your provider are how complications or concerns can be spotted early and taken care of. Your doctor may also notice warning signs that you wouldn’t be aware of on your own.

Babies of Mothers who DO NOT get prenatal care:

  • Are 3 times more likely to have a low birth weight
  • Are 5 times more likely to die

Make time in your schedule for these appointments, you and your baby will be healthier for it.

What happens at a typical prenatal appointment?

While there is some variation in what you’ll discuss and some more eventful appointments, every single prenatal appointment throughout pregnancy will include:

  • Urine sample: this is done to check for things like bladder or kidney infections, dehydration, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. It basically gives your provider a glimpse into what’s going on to help catch complications right away.
  • Weight: At each visit you will be weighed and as your pregnancy progresses your provider will also begin to measure and track your fundal height at each visit. This let’s your provider know how much your uterus is growing.
  • Blood pressure: This again is to check for any red flags regarding complications.
  • Listen to baby’s heartbeat
  • Q and A with your provider: This might include discussion of upcoming ultrasounds or tests, blood draws and symptom management. Typically, your provider will bring up the big stuff, but to get the most out of your appointments, prepare a list of questions and discussion points ahead of time so you don’t freeze up.

Should my partner come to my prenatal appointments?

I’ll be honest, not every prenatal appointment is filled with joy and excitement, some are actually very routine and a bit boring. However! Some of the ‘milestone’ appointments are definitely worth having your partner accompany you on. It’s his baby too and you’ll want to share in some of your pregnancy firsts together.

So which prenatal visits should he come to?

You are more than welcome to have your partner come to all of your appointments. If scheduling is possible it is a really nice way to feel supported and share this special time. I was always surprised about the questions my husband thought of on the spot that wouldn’t have crossed my mind. We also participated in group prenatal care which really involved the partners and you can read more about below.

But at a minimum, see if your partner can at least come to these appointments:

  • The very first appointment
  • The 12 week ultrasound
  • The 20 week ultrasound
  • A few in the third trimester including the 36/37 week appointment when you are deemed full term

How often do you get an ultrasound during pregnancy?

A low-risk pregnancy typically only has two ultrasounds, one at 12 weeks and one at 20 weeks. You may have a few more than this if there are concerns about baby’s growth, or the technician is unable to get the angles they want during one of the routine ultrasounds because of baby’s position.

Where should I go for my prenatal appointments?

Right when you have a positive pregnancy test, you will want to schedule your first prenatal appointment. It’s a good idea to research women’s health providers in your area and give some thought and research where to give birth.

You should decide if you want to work with a certified nurse midwife or doctor, and if your current women’s health practice delivers babies at your hospital of choice.

How can I prepare for my prenatal visits?

Knowing the lay of the land in terms of what to expect throughout your pregnancy can be helpful in getting the most out of your appointments. If you are educated on the typical progression of pregnancy, symptoms and decisions you’ll need to make, you will be able to ask better and more thorough questions leading to more discussion during your appointments.

Have an idea of things like:

  • What to know and do as soon as you find out your pregnant
  • Choose where to give birth and who to birth with
  • How to handle morning sickness
  • Third trimester pregnancy symptoms
  • Birth plan decisions
  • What tools and pain interventions you want to use during birth

By getting educated on your own, you will have richer more productive discussions during your appointments.

Have a place to keep your questions and suggestions organized

Additionally, I recommend getting a pretty notebook, or using one of the appointment planning and note sheets in our Nesting Planner, as a place to jot down questions, concerns and symptoms as they pop up between appointments.

This will ensure you don’t forget to mention anything when you are at your appointments, everything will be in one place, and you can jot down any advice your provider suggests.

First Trimester Prenatal Appointments

When should I make my first doctor’s appointment when pregnant?

As soon as you find out you’re pregnant you are going to want to call and schedule your first appointment. They generally won’t schedule and see you until about 8-10 weeks into your pregnancy but you should schedule this right away.

Before you schedule your first prenatal appointment, do some research!

I cannot stress enough the idea of researching providers in your area and not just going to the OB/GYN you’ve been using before now. I’m not saying they may not end up still being your choice, but it’s important to learn about hospitals in your area, the benefits of delivering with a doctor versus a certified nurse midwife and then choosing a prenatal care provider associated with your hospital of choice.

I didn’t realize how many factors go into choosing where to give birth. I have seen mom friends of mine:

  • Separated from their babies when complications arose due to not better understanding the NICU levels where they delivered
  • Not receiving the personalized-care they wanted because of how big the hospital was or the type of provider they chose
  • Not feeling supported in breastfeeding and rooming-in because of hospital policy.

Do your research now!

You should look at:

  • Hospital statistics
  • Rates of various interventions
  • Breastfeeding success rates and supports
  • What level of nursery or NICU they provide
  • How many providers are on during a given shift
  • What kind of amenities do they offer to you and your partner

What should I expect at my first prenatal visit?

This appointment is mostly a meet and greet to get to know your provider and discuss the changes you will want to make in your life now that you found out you are pregnant.

Because a lot of this appointment is ‘getting to know you’, it’s great if your partner can join you for this one. It will allow them to also know your chosen provider and chime in with questions and concerns. I always find it helpful to have another set of listening ears to absorb information too.

You will also go through the routine procedures of every visit outlined above including a urine sample, blood pressure check, weigh-in and likely get to hear baby’s heartbeat for the first time <3

What should I ask at my first prenatal appointment?

By understanding what you need to know and do now that you’re pregnant before your appointment, you’ll have a great jumping off point for organizing questions and concerns you have.

Some questions to get your started:

  • Do I have any special risks or likelihood of complications given my medical history?
  • What can and can’t I eat?
  • Can I continue to exercise?
  • What will a healthy weight gain look like for me?
  • Do I need to change any skin-care or beauty products I currently use?
  • What over the counter and/or prescription medications should I not take, which are safe to use when I am feeling discomfort?
  • Are there any restrictions on other activities I should be aware of?
  • Should I schedule all of my appointments with you or do you recommend seeing other members of the team?
  • What screenings and tests do you recommend?
  • Who should I contact if I have any concerns or questions between appointments?

12-week Ultrasound and Testing

Trina did a lot of research and wrote a thorough overview of first trimester prenatal screenings in her 10-week bump update, but the long and short of it is:

You have two options:

  1. Nuchal Translucency Scan (NT Scan)
  • Covered by insurance
  • Takes measurements of the baby’s neck on a 12 week ultrasound and takes into account mom’s health and medical history to make assumptions about chromosomal disorders
  • Can result in false positives that lead to more invasive testing and added stress and anxiety. This is particularly true if you are under 30. In that case the likelihood of a false positive is higher than a true positive
  1. Counsyl Prelude Prenatal Scan (Genetic Testing)
    • Not typically covered by insurance
    • Involves a blood draw with very accurate results
    • Allows you to find out baby’s gender at week 12 if you choose
    • Very low rate of false positives

Blood Work during the First Trimester

During the first trimester you will have a bloodwork order that commonly includes:

  • Blood type and RH factor
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
  • Rubella Immunity, HIV, and Hepatitis B Testing

Second Trimester Prenatal Visits

During your second trimester your appointments will continue with frequency of about every 4 weeks as long as your pregnancy is progressing normally. The second trimester prenatal appointment that is the most exciting (in my opinion!) is the 20-week ultrasound! You get to see baby again and find out the gender if you wish. The other big event is your glucose test that checks for gestational diabetes.

20 Week Ultrasound

The 20-week ultrasound is an exciting one for many parents because they get to see baby again, and baby is looking a lot more like, well, a baby! As my husband put it, a lot less “alien”, heh. It is also almost always possible to see and determine the baby’s sex during this ultrasound.

This ultrasound, known as the ‘anatomy scan’, is also important because it allows the technician to view baby’s growth, development and any abnormalities. Technicians may be able to identify things like brain defects, heart defects, and other organ abnormalities.

Why is the 20 week anatomy scan important?

Having knowledge of these types of things as soon as possible will allow you and your baby to receive specialized care for the remainder of your pregnancy. It will also give you time to research and prepare to help baby enter the world safely and have an excellent plan for care in place.

If your 20 week ultrasound shows a problem, you will have additional testing done, and may require subsequent ultrasounds and imaging.

Glucose Test ~26 weeks

Sometime between 26 and 30 weeks you will need to complete a Glucose Screening Test to check for gestational diabetes. This is a routine test during pregnancy that is important for all women to take, because anyone can develop gestational diabetes. It occurs in around 9% of pregnancies and there is no clearly known cause. You can find more information on the American Diabetes Association page for Gestational Diabetes.

So how does the Glucose Test work?

You will go to a blood draw center and upon arrival they will give you a very sugary drink. You usually don’t need to change your diet at all before this test. Once you finish the drink, you will need to wait one hour and then they will draw blood to check your blood-sugar levels.

If you have normal blood sugar levels one hour after drinking the drink, that’s it! You’re in the clear. If you have elevated levels, you will need to go in for a longer 3 hour test.

How will the Glucose Test feel?

It isn’t known for being the most pleasant. Most women dislike the taste and will feel a bit ‘yucky’ for lack of a better term while they wait out the hour. This was my experience. Some women are more sensitive to it and have a very hard time. If you vomit up the drink you will need to come back to re-attempt the test. Read more about Trina’s experience with her Glucose Test.

Third Trimester Prenatal Visits

Increased Frequency of Prenatal Visits

In the third trimester, your appointments will increase in frequency. Starting now, you will come in every 2 weeks. Once you hit ~36 weeks, you will have weekly visits until delivery. These appointments are an important time to discuss third trimester pregnancy symptoms and bring up any concerns.

Also during these visits, you will be able to discuss birth wishes and options with your provider. Work on your birth plan at home and involve your partner in the process. Then use your discussion at home to get more information and have your provider weigh-in. You can find support with this process in the Birth Smart Nesting Planner, check it out today!

Between weeks 35-37 Group B Strep Test

Group B Strep (GBS) is a kind of bacterial infection that is found naturally in the vaginal or rectal areas of about 25% of all healthy women. It is important to check for this during pregnancy because during delivery it puts your baby at risk. While not all babies who are delivered to mothers who test positive for GBS will contract it themselves, it is simply not worth the risk.

If you test positive for GBS you will need to have an IV of antibiotics during labor and delivery. This is not a constant drip, but a dose every 4 hours throughout active labor until baby is born.

What is group prenatal care?

Group prenatal care is a less common form of prenatal care in the US but is widely popular and common in other parts of the world. In group prenatal care, you receive prenatal care from about 20 weeks until delivery with other women who have a due date within 2-4 weeks of each other.

Group prenatal care typically includes all of the elements that a routine prenatal visit has, but puts more emphasis on supporting each other emotionally and processing the experience with others who are going through it at the same time.

My experience with group prenatal care

I participated in group prenatal care during my first pregnancy and am still friends with all of the wonderful mamas I met there. It was amazing to have a support network and sounding board throughout pregnancy. I also felt like there were richer discussions and that I learned so much more because the midwife who facilitated the group planned discussion topics and activities for each 2-hour session.

The other wonderful part was that our partners were welcomed and really involved in the pregnancy experience. Find out if any hospital or providers near you have this wonderful program that is covered by insurance. If not, joining any kind of exercise class or prenatal group will allow you to have a similar supportive and community experience during your pregnancy.

You’re ready to get the most out of your appointments!

With this guide, you now know what to expect from your prenatal appointments and how preparing and educating yourself between appointments can lead to richer discussion with your provider during your scheduled visits. Take notes throughout your weeks about symptoms and questions as they pop into your head and bring a place to record answers during your appointment.

Now that you’re prepared for the more medical side of things, let us support you on the home front! We are passionate about helping expectant mamas get completely prepared for baby with all of the fun and important non-medical things.

Enroll in the FREE Bump Smart email course today to receive weekly updates and ways to prepare tailored to your week of pregnancy.

Happy pregnancy 😊 We hope to continue to support you on your journey to baby.

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