Every woman requires professional health care during pregnancy which is also referred to as antenatal care, pregnancy care or maternity care in some cases. The first step to having antenatal care is registering in a hospital which will secure you an appointment with a midwife, or an obstetrician (a doctor who specialises in pregnancy and birth). Antenatal care should not be delayed; once you are pregnant, you should start your antenatal care immediately.


What is antenatal care all about


The baby and the soon to be mother must be fine and doing well all through the period of pregnancy which is what antenatal care is set to achieve. The practitioner providing your antenatal care may carry out some the following:

  • Checking the health of the mother and her baby
  • Gives the soon to be mother useful information on how to have a healthy pregnancy, including advice about health and exercise
  • Discussing your options and choices for your care during pregnancy, labour and birth
  • Respond to any question you might ask


Antenatal care in the UK is free, and all soon to be mothers are offered the following:

  • Pregnancy ultrasound between 8 to 14 weeks and 18 to 21 weeks
  • Screening for sickle cell and thalassaemia
  • Antenatal screening test to diagnose babies having conditions like Down’s syndrome
  • Blood tests to check for syphilis, HIV and hepatitis B
  • Antenatal classes which may include breastfeeding and other workshops



Starting antenatal care


Starting antenatal care must be as early as possible to get the information you need to know about having a healthy pregnancy. You will need an appointment with your GP or midwife as soon as you find out you are pregnant. If you need a midwife, your GP surgery or a Children’s Centre in your local council will help you get in touch with your nearest midwifery service. Pregnant women with special health needs should involve their GP or obstetrician in their maternity care, and your midwife must be well informed about your disability.


Antenatal appointment


Your GP might recommend up to 10 antenatal appointments if you are expecting your first child and about 7 appointments for others. You may have more appointment in some cases of a complicated pregnancy or serious medical condition. Your midwife or GP will give you written information on how many appointments you will likely have and when to have them. You must let your midwife know if you will not be able to keep an appointment so that you can be rescheduled for another.


Where you can have your antenatal appointments


There are different places where you can have your antenatal appointment, some of which are your homes, Children’s Centre, GP surgery or hospital. You will always be required to go to the hospital for your pregnancy scans.

The best place for antenatal appointments is in an environment where you can discuss sensitive issues, such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, mental illness or drugs. Your antenatal appointments are opportunities to tell your midwife or GP about your vulnerability or area you need extra support –this could be domestic violence, sexual abuse or female genital mutilation.

Your midwife will ensure you get the best pregnancy care, asking questions about you and your family’s health, and your preferences. Some checks and tests such as urine tests and blood pressure will also be done periodically throughout your pregnancy.


Questions you might be asked


The midwife or doctor will ask you a lot of questions to be the best they can to you. Some of the questions you might be asked are:

  • Your health
  • The date of the first day of your last period
  • Any previous pregnancies and miscarriages
  • Your job, your partner’s job and what kind of accommodation you live in to see whether your circumstances might affect your pregnancy.
  • Any previous illnesses and operations you have had
  • How you are feeling generally, for example, if you have been depressed and so on.


Antenatal appointments after 24 weeks


Your antenatal appointments will become more frequent after 24 weeks of pregnancy. You might not need close monitoring if you are healthy compared with someone with a complicated pregnancy. Your doctor and midwife only need to carry out minor examinations at this stage such as:

  • Checking your urine and blood pressure
  • Feeling your tummy (abdomen) to check the baby’s position
  • Measuring your womb (uterus) to check your baby’s growth
  • Listen to your baby’s heartbeat, if you grant them permission.

Also at this stage, you might be given information on the following:

  • Making your birth plan
  • How to tell if you’re in active labour
  • Preparing for labour and birth
  • Induction of labour after your expected dates of delivery
  • The “baby blues” and postnatal depression
  • Feeding your baby
  • Vitamin K that is given to prevent vitamin K deficiency bleeding in your baby
  • Screening tests for new-born babies
  • Looking after yourself and your new baby


Your baby’s movements


You must keep track of your baby’s movements all through the pregnancy. You should contact your doctor or midwife immediately if your foetal movements become slow or stops. An ultrasound scan can also be offered to monitor how your baby is growing and developing.