What to Expect From Your Prenatal Care Appointments

What to Expect From Your Prenatal Care Appointments - Illustration by Michela Buttignol

Verywell / Michela Buttignol

The test is positive, morning sickness has kicked in, and your pregnancy journey has just begun! Finding out you're expecting brings so many emotions, from giddiness and excitement to nervousness and hesitation. There's also one burning question that pops up, especially if this is your first pregnancy: What happens next?

Along with nine months of bodily changes, baby kicks, and bouts of heartburn come the super important (and super frequent) prenatal care appointments. Your OB/GYN's office might feel like a second home by the end of your pregnancy, but it's for a good reason!

Each stage of pregnancy comes with its own milestones, challenges, and safety precautions. Every prenatal appointment along the way ensures you and your baby stay on track and healthy. Here, we will break down what to expect at each round of prenatal appointments, including what your healthcare provider is looking for, what precautions you need to take, and which tests may be recommended.

Your First Prenatal Care Appointment

This is a big one! Your first prenatal care appointment is certainly the most exciting, and its timing can vary based on the practice. You should call your provider as soon as you find out you are pregnant to determine the best time to come in, which is typically between 6 and 10 weeks.

Andrea Chisholm, MD, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist with over 20 years of clinical experience, explains that during your first appointment, your OB/GYN will discuss your medical history (including your partner and family history) and give you a physical exam. You will also undergo a number of routine prenatal lab tests, where they will screen for infectious diseases (such as HIV, hep B/C, and syphilis), STIs, and immunity to rubella and chickenpox.

During your first visit, you may or may not get an ultrasound depending on your provider or risk factors determined from your medical history. Your provider will check your blood pressure, may perform a pap smear or pelvic exam, and discuss a prenatal game plan for the coming months, including a potential due date, which prenatal vitamins to take, and any necessary lifestyle and dietary changes.

"This is [also] the appointment where your OB provider will decide if any additional early testing or intervention is needed," says Dr. Chisholm.

Your Second Prenatal Care Appointment

From weeks 4 to 28 of pregnancy, you will visit your OB/GYN once a month, so your second visit will be four weeks from your initial visit.

Dr. Chisholm explains that if your initial prenatal visit was prior to 10 weeks, then your OB/GYN will listen for fetal heart tones during the second visit. They will continue to check the baby's heartbeat at every appointment after 10 weeks. (Arguably the best part of every visit!)

There may be more discussion about genetic testing at this appointment and your urine may be screened to watch for infection. Your weight and blood pressure will be checked, which is something you can come to expect from every prenatal appointment moving forward.

14 to 16 Weeks Prenatal Care Appointments

Welcome to the second trimester! Between 14 and 16 weeks, you'll undergo the usual blood pressure and weight-gain check, and your doctor will monitor your baby's heartbeat. Dr. Chisholm explains that there may be continued discussion about genetic testing and a possible screening for neural tube defects with an AFP (or alpha-fetoprotein test).

"If you are at an increased risk for gestational diabetes your provider may [also] suggest an early glucose challenge test," she says.

18 to 22 Weeks Prenatal Care Appointments

Between 18 and 22 weeks of pregnancy, you will likely get the ultrasound you've been so anxiously awaiting—the anatomy scan! This is where you can find out the sex of the tiny human you've been growing for the past few months. For some, this may be the first ultrasound since becoming pregnant.

Around 20 weeks of pregnancy, your healthcare provider will begin to measure your belly to check your baby’s growth (or the uterine fundal height). They do this by measuring from the top of the pubic bone to the top of the uterus, which helps ensure your baby's growth is on track for how far along you are. You can expect this at every appointment moving forward.

22 to 26 Weeks Prenatal Care Appointments

Dr. Chisholm explains that between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy, you can expect a glucose challenge screening test, which screens for gestational diabetes. You will be asked to drink a sweet liquid (glucose), wait one hour, and then have your blood drawn. The blood test examines how well your body processes sugar.

If you test positive during the test, you will be asked to do a second, longer test (three hours), called the glucose tolerance test. If you receive abnormal results, you will likely be diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and your provider will lay out a treatment plan.

28 to 36 Weeks Prenatal Care Appointments

Hello, third trimester! Your prenatal visits will now increase to every two weeks until you hit the 36-week mark. Your OB/GYN will continue to check your blood pressure, weight, and baby's heartbeat, but will also focus on your baby's position (head-down versus breech).

Your provider may also give you a Tdap vaccination during this time, which protects you and your baby against pertussis (or whooping cough), which can be very dangerous for an infant.

Around 35 weeks, you will also be tested for Group B streptococcus, a bacteria that can cause severe infections in newborns if not treated during labor. If you test positive, don't worry! The test simply shows that you have the bacteria in your body, not that it will cause illness in you or your baby. This can be treated with antibiotics during labor to ensure a safe delivery.

36 to 40 Weeks Prenatal Care Appointments

Once you hit 36 weeks pregnant (the home stretch!), you will start having weekly OB visits until delivery day. During the last few weeks of visits, your OB will start checking your cervix to see if dilation is taking place. They will also be able to determine whether your baby is in the head-down position and ready for labor. You will go over any final preparations, how to time your contractions, and when it's time to call your healthcare provider.

40 to 42 Weeks Prenatal Care Appointments

There are times when a baby may take longer than anticipated to make their big debut. Most times, your healthcare provider will allow the pregnancy to take its course until you reach 41 weeks, after which they will begin running tests to make sure the baby is okay. If your little one is active, healthy, and the amniotic fluid amount is sufficient, they may decide to wait it out until labor begins.

On the other hand, if you are approaching 42 weeks pregnant with no signs of active labor, induction may be the best option to secure the health of you and your baby. Once you reach this point, the placenta may stop working as well as it should, causing a decrease in oxygen and nutrients for the baby. Your OB/GYN may choose to start the induction process to get labor moving, or a C-section may be needed if there is fetal distress or labor is not starting or progressing as it should.

A Word From Verywell

While you've gotten a general run-down of each prenatal appointment, it's important to keep in mind that every pregnancy is different. Remember to bring any questions you have to each doctor's visit, and don't be afraid to ask them! Your OB/GYN is there to guide you every step of the way and ensure you and your baby receive the absolute best care, treatment, and delivery possible.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. March of Dimes. Prenatal care checkups.

  2. M Health Fairveiw. What to expect before, during and after your first prenatal appointment.

  3. March of Dimes. Prenatal care checkups.

  4. Nemours Children's Health. Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR).

  5. American Pregnancy Association. Glucose tolerance test.

  6. Nemours Children's Health. Group B Strep and pregnancy.

  7. Mount Sinai. When you pass your due date.

By Alex Vance
Alex Vance is a freelance writer covering topics ranging from pregnancy and parenting to health and wellness. She is a former news and features writer for Moms.com and Blog Writer for The HOTH. Her motherhood-related pieces have been published on Scary Mommy, Motherhood Understood, and Thought Catalog.