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Pregnancy is a worry as well as a joy. How much do you know about prenatal care, tests and health problems during pregnancy?

Pregnancy lasts 38 weeks on average; plenty of time, for many expectant mothers, to worry about every sensation and symptom they experience, and to wonder if their baby is healthy. Many of the symptoms pregnant women worry about are perfectly harmless, but others need medical attention.

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Your obstetrician/gynecologist or midwife is your most important partner when it comes to determining which symptoms indicate a pregnancy complication, and which are just a side effect of a normal pregnancy.

If you already have a trusted prenatal care provider, you can contact him or her as soon as you realize you are pregnant to ask when you should have your first prenatal appointment. Women who haven't yet found a prenatal care provider can start interviewing several in the early stages of the first trimester. It is important to choose a doctor or midwife you trust, and who takes the time to listen to patients' concerns.

Prenatal Care And Tests

During your first prenatal appointment, you and your healthcare provider will cover the basics: confirm the pregnancy, discuss the date of your last menstrual period and your estimated due date, and talk about your medical history.

Your blood pressure will be measured, your doctor may listen to the fetal heartbeat, and you will be asked to undergo blood and urine tests.

The glucose tolerance test for gestational diabetes is another routine prenatal test that we cover in the next section, and of course your healthcare provider will be on the lookout for worrying symptoms at all times.

Ultrasound scans are planned at different times depending on the country in which you live, and your particular doctor's practice. Many pregnant women will have a scan during their very first prenatal appointment, something that is the highlight of a pregnancy for many. You won't start to feel fetal movement until 13 weeks or later, but your doctor may be able to determine your baby's sex as early as 12 weeks.

Prenatal care is also likely to include a number of diagnostic and screening tests. The double marker test determines if the baby is at risk of chromosomal disorders such as Down Syndrome, and is carried out between weeks 14 and 20. The triple marker test compares different factors including age, ethnicity, and the results of previous blood tests to estimate what your baby's risk of having a genetic abnormality or disorder is. This is usually carried out between weeks 16 and 18.

Both the double and triple marker tests are screening tests, rather than diagnostic tests. This means that they look at the risk that your baby has a disorder, rather than determining that your baby definitely has one.

Amniocentesis is a definite diagnostic test that will diagnose nearly all chromosomal disorders, several hundred genetic disorders, and neural tube defects like spina bifida. Spina bifida causes problems with the brain, spine or spinal cord (they do not close completely in the early stages of pregnancy), and the risk of this can be greatly reduce if the mother takes folic acid from three months before trying to conceive through the first month of pregnancy.

This test may be offered to women who had abnormal double and triple test results, or those who are over 35. Amniocentesis is generally carried out between weeks 16 and 22, and involves collecting a sample of the amniotic fluid through the abdomen. It carries a slight risk of miscarriage.

Moms to-be who are dealing with specific health problems will be monitored more closely. Thyroid disorders require regular hormonal check, for example, and women who are Rh negative when their partner is Rh positive will need Rhogam shots to prevent Rh sensitization, which can cause the mother's antibodies to attack the baby's red blood cells.  

Pain Killers And Antibiotics

Expectant mothers get ill, too. If you have a headache, backache, sore throat or a fever, paracetamol (tylenol) is considered to be a safe for use during pregnancy. You can use this popular over the counter pain killer during all three trimesters, but make sure you never exceed the recommend dose.

Antibiotics are best avoided during pregnancy, but when an expectant mom suffers from a condition that requires antibiotics, the treating doctor will choose an antibiotic that will treat the problem but is safest for use during pregnancy. 

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