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Prenatal care: How can your family physician help?

Body, Women's Health, Show on Corporate Home

Building a relationship with your family medicine provider is one of the most important factors in managing your overall health. But if you want to get pregnant, how does your family medicine provider fit into your care plan? Often, these physicians can help more than you think.

Optimizing your health before pregnancy

Women hear all the time that they should optimize their health before they get pregnant. But what does that even mean? “First, regardless of health or age, you should see your primary care provider at least once a year,” says Shruti Javali, MD, family medicine physician with Adventist Health Medical Offices – Fowler.

This annual visit is an opportunity to discuss all the factors that impact your overall health. Take some time before the appointment to think about how you can make the most of this visit. You may want to ask:

  • Am I eating a healthy diet? How can I improve?
  • What is the ideal weight for my body type, sex and age?
  • How often should I be exercising?
  • Does my family history put me at a higher risk for any health conditions?

You may have specific questions related to personal health concerns, such as irregular menstrual cycles, risks for high blood pressure or even digestive problems. Whatever your health concern, consulting with your primary care provider is a great place to start.

What about after I get pregnant?

While not every family medicine provider offers prenatal care services, many do. Women who have low- to average-risk pregnancies may be able to continue visiting their primary care provider throughout their pregnancy.

“The overall goal of prenatal care is to ensure that mom and baby both stay as healthy as possible. Everything that goes into achieving that goal falls under the scope of prenatal care,” Dr. Javali explains. Your prenatal visits could involve everything from conversations about how your body will change over the next nine months to all the blood tests and ultrasounds you need.

For many women, the pregnancy journey may also include pregnancy loss. “All too often, miscarriage is part of the journey to parenthood,” Dr. Javali points out. “It is more common than many people realize.” Losing a pregnancy is a devastating experience for a couple wanting to start a family. Ask your healthcare provider for recommendations for support services and resources. Involvement with a support group or speaking with a therapist can be helpful strategies for coping with pregnancy loss.

Partners in your pregnancy

Dr. Javali notes, “Prenatal care can easily become the job of the woman carrying the pregnancy. I encourage wholeheartedly that the father or parenting partner be involved in this journey.” For example, listening to the baby’s heartbeat for the first time can be a magical moment—parenting partners and fathers should feel just as much a part of that moment as the pregnant woman.

If you opt to see your primary care provider for your prenatal care, you may have a warm hand-off to an OB/GYN around 34-36 weeks of pregnancy. Your primary care provider may be the one to deliver your baby, or your primary care provider may partner with an OB/GYN. Speak with your healthcare provider about how you can best prepare for your labor and delivery.

The fourth trimester

After you give birth, it’s natural to shift your focus to caring for your newborn. But remember that postpartum care and care for yourself is crucial. “Your body has been through a tremendous transition throughout pregnancy, not to mention the trauma of delivery,” Dr. Javali notes. “It’s essential to touch base with your healthcare provider, both immediately after delivery and six weeks later.” In these first few months, your healthcare provider is a critical resource for ensuring that you’re healing well—both physically and mentally.

“Women are surrounded by a culture that says, ‘Your body was made for this,’” says Dr. Javali. “And while having a baby is ‘normal,’ and thousands of women do it every day, there is a wide spectrum to what encompasses normal. When it comes to periods, pregnancy, delivery and even breastfeeding, what’s normal for you may be very different than what was normal for your mom, sister or friends.”

“At the end of the day, be gentle with yourself,” Dr. Javali says. “Women tend to beat themselves up about their bodies. Be kinder to your body. Be kinder to yourself.”

For more information about prenatal care and pregnancy, find a healthcare provider.