Preparation is a big part of pregnancy. Whether you’ve just gotten your positive pregnancy test or are still waiting on it, there are probably a few things that you know you’re going to do next. You might have a list of articles or books to read about what to expect, and you may be wondering about when to schedule your first pregnancy appointment.
In the weeks following conception, your doctor or midwife and the rest of your care team will start seeing you for prenatal appointments. These appointments allow your care team to check in on you and your baby to make sure you’re both healthy and on track.
Below, we provide a sample timeline of prenatal appointments, including common tests and a few key milestones, so you can get an idea of how often you’ll see your care provider throughout your pregnancy and what may happen at each prenatal appointment.
How often are prenatal visits?
For people with uncomplicated pregnancies, prenatal appointments generally happen every four weeks until approximately week 36 of pregnancy. The next visit is usually around week 38, and then once per week until birth. However, every pregnancy is different, and different health care providers stick to different schedules. At HealthPartners, for example, our patients have freedom in how they schedule their appointments. The timeline provided below is just one recommendation and is based on the schedule that people typically follow.
The appointment timeline for high-risk pregnancies
You may be asked to come in for prenatal appointments more frequently if your pregnancy is considered high risk. This is because your care team will want to make sure they’re giving you all the care you need. Factors that may lead to more prenatal visits include having multiples, being over age 35 or having a health condition (like diabetes or high blood pressure) that could affect or be affected by your pregnancy.
There are also complications that may show up after you become pregnant, like pregnancy-related high blood pressure, which can require more frequent visits.
Example timeline of pregnancy appointments
Visit #1: 6-10 weeks
Your first prenatal appointment will be a bit longer than the rest, as it will involve a wide range of tests and exams to assess your overall health, establish baseline measurements and look for factors that could complicate your pregnancy. This appointment will cover:
Your medical and lifestyle histories
Your health care provider may ask about a variety of topics, including your mental health, any medications and supplements you’re taking, your menstrual history, and your use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.
Your (estimated) due date
If you know the date that your last period started, you don’t have to wait for a care provider to calculate roughly when you’ll deliver. Simply add seven days and count back three months to find out when you’ll be 40 weeks pregnant. For example, if your last period started on January 1, you’d count back three months from January 8, and get an estimated due date of October 8.
If you aren’t sure about the date of your last period, your doctor or midwife may suggest a fetal “dating” ultrasound to find out. It’s unlikely that you’ll actually give birth on your due date, but it helps your care team track the progress of your pregnancy.
A physical exam
You may receive a full physical exam, which includes checking your weight and height, as well as pelvic and breast exams. If you’re healthy and haven’t had one in three years, you may also get a Pap test.
Samples of your urine and blood will be taken for testing. Urine tests check for infections, which can cause issues during pregnancy even if you don’t have any symptoms.
With the blood tests, your provider will check your red blood cell count, which shows if you have anemia, and your platelet count, which shows if you have trouble with blood clotting. They’ll also check your blood for its type and Rhesus (Rh) factor, which could be an issue in the future. But having this information early in the pregnancy means that your care team can use medication to prevent most problems.
Your samples will also be examined to make sure that you’re up to date on your measles, mumps, rubella and other immunizations if your vaccination record isn’t available.
Visit #2: 10-12 weeks
After your first appointment, your prenatal visits will start to fall into a pattern. At every visit, your care team will ask about how you’re feeling and check a few key things: the growth of your baby and uterus, your weight and your blood pressure. And starting around 10-12 weeks into your pregnancy, you’ll get to hear your little one’s heartbeat.
Visit #3: 16-18 weeks
This will be another routine appointment. Your care team will take measurements like they did at your last visit and check in with you about how you’re feeling.
Remember that every visit is an opportunity to ask any questions you have – whether they’re about what foods you can eat, which exercises are safe, or creating a birth plan. Your care team is there to help you feel confident and healthy throughout your pregnancy, so never hesitate to ask whatever comes to mind. It also helps to keep a list of questions that may arise during the time between appointments.
Visit #4: 20-22 weeks
At this visit, you’ll have another ultrasound – referred to as the “anatomy scan.” This ultrasound is used to measure your baby’s body, and check the condition of their organs and the amount of amniotic fluid around them. It also checks for rare conditions such as spina bifida or cleft lip. This is your chance to finally find out your little one’s biological gender.
Visit #5: 24-28 weeks
Once you’re well into your second trimester, your care team will repeat some of the tests that were done at your first visit. They’ll check for signs of Treponema bacteria (which are the cause of many sexually transmitted infections) and may do a blood test to check for anemia (to see if you need more iron). They may also perform a glucose test to check for signs of gestational diabetes.
This is also a good time to find a doctor for your baby. You’ll have a full plate once your baby is born, so finding their doctor now will ensure that you have one less thing to think about later on.
Visit #6: 32 weeks
This will be another routine appointment. Your care team will take the usual measurements and check in with you about how you’re feeling.
Visit #7: 36 weeks
As you approach your due date, there will be a new test that involves a vaginal swab: The Group B Streptococcus (Strep) screening. Group B Strep bacteria naturally come and go in your body, but they have the potential to cause serious infections in newborns. If necessary, you’ll be given antibiotics during labor.
At around 36 weeks, your doctor or midwife may also do another pelvic exam to check your baby’s position. If your baby isn’t positioned for a head-first delivery, they may recommend exercises or physical manipulation to get the baby into the correct position. If it doesn’t look like it will be possible to get your baby into a head-first position, your care provider will discuss the possibility of a C-section with you.
Visits #8-10: 38-40 weeks
By week 38, the big day will be close enough that your care team will start keeping closer track of your progress. Again, each pregnancy is different, but from this point on, you may have a prenatal appointment every week until you deliver.
These visits will feel similar to the routine prenatal appointments you’re used to. Your care team will measure your weight and blood pressure, as well as monitor your baby’s size, heartbeat and position. The main difference is that your doctor or midwife may also check to see if your cervix is dilating, which can happen gradually as your baby lowers into your pelvic area – and in some cases can be an early sign of labor.
Again, this is an example timeline and doesn’t reflect all the appointments and tests that every pregnant person will have. In addition to the unique frequency of your prenatal appointments, you may be offered optional tests. Early in your pregnancy, for example, there are several options available that check for chromosomal issues in your baby. Talk to your care provider to learn more.
You may also have a few more appointments and tests done if your pregnancy lasts beyond week 40. In this case, your care team will want to keep even closer track of you and your baby’s progress.
Get your prenatal care started
Prenatal appointments are key to the care and treatment of people during pregnancy. The checkups and testing done at each visit are how your care team will ensure that you and your baby get the support you need at every stage. Whatever makes your pregnancy unique, you can be sure that when the big day rolls around, you’ll be ready.