Having a baby without having had prenatal care is a risky venture. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women who do not receive prenatal care are three times more likely to give birth to a low-weight baby, and their baby is five times more likely to die.
Pregnancy and childbirth are natural processes, and most of the time they go well. But, just as you wear a seat belt when riding in a car, it’s best to be prepared in case something goes wrong. Proper care before and during pregnancy can help reduce health risks to mother and baby. It also can help provide emotional support to the mother (and family) and develop a relationship with the physician.
Prenatal care starts with monthly visits to the doctor, then more frequent visits in the last few months of pregnancy. These visits enable the doctor to detect potential problems that can be treated, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, that develop during pregnancy. Diabetes can lead to birth defects, increased size of the baby, which can result in injury during birth, and fetal death. High blood pressure can cause premature birth or death of the mother or baby.
Advances in prenatal care and testing, such as genetic testing, occur on a regular basis. So even if you had a baby a few years ago, you may find new options available today.
Prenatal care also can detect many problems with the baby that will require immediate care at birth, such as a heart defect. The physician and family can then plan to deliver the baby at an appropriate medical facility. If it is likely that the baby will be born early, it is essential that the delivery take place in a facility that has a good neonatal intensive care unit. Much progress has been made in neonatal care in recent decades. Thirty years ago, a child born at 30 weeks gestation (compared to the normal 40 weeks) was much less likely to survive and more likely to have lasting deficits than a baby born at 30 weeks today.
Another advantage of prenatal care is getting answers to your questions and developing a relationship with your doctor. This support makes for a more enjoyable pregnancy, and when it’s time for the birth, you will feel more confident knowing you are in the care of someone you know and trust.
The doctor, also, benefits from the relationship. Even after delivering thousands of babies, I still get excited — even in the middle of the night — when I go to the hospital to welcome a new child into the world. Each family is special, and it’s an honor to be part of the most important event in their lives.