It's not unusual for a women's health specialist to be asked if prenatal care is really necessary or helpful. The answer is a resounding "yes," according to Marshfield Clinic Obstetrician/Gynecologist Melissa Stoffel, D.O.
"Prenatal care helps keep you and your baby healthy," she explained. "Nationally, it has been proven that babies of mothers who do not get prenatal care are three times more likely to have a low birth weight and five times more likely to die than those born to mothers who do get care."
Babies born at low birth weight or prematurely often face numerous problems such as blindness, brain bleeds and serious intestinal problems requiring surgical repair.
The idea behind prenatal care is to find health issues early so your doctor can address them more effectively. The first exam is quite thorough to establish a baseline and provide prenatal advice. If all is going well, subsequent exams can be quicker.
"We want to make sure the mother is getting plenty of appropriate exercise, a healthy diet, and prenatal vitamins with folic acid included," Dr. Stoffel said.
"Your OB/GYN or primary care doctor will ask many questions about current or previous health conditions because none of us want to be surprised with a sudden revelation just before birth, which could result in a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit."
One of the things that is really disturbing to her is the growing number of young pregnant women who smoke, consume alcohol or take methamphetamines. Their babies are being born with cravings for nicotine and meth; these babies are also smaller, less healthy overall and crankier as a result of these drugs, and have problems with feeding and maintaining weight.
"We also see many women who are obese, which increases their likelihood to have complications from childbirth," she added. Obesity dramatically raises the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as babies being born large and having a difficult delivery.
Any of these situations can cause major complications, such as neurological damage. Some of these can stay with a child for life.
If these complications are identified early, your health care team is better prepared to give your baby the appropriate care shortly after delivery.
"My advice to pregnant ladies is this: Please take care of yourselves as you prepare to bring another human into the world," Dr. Stoffel said. You and your baby will benefit.