What you do, and how you live, in between those checkups has a lot of impact. Here's how you can contribute with "DIY prenatal care".
Prenatal care What is that exactly?
Prenatal care is the care you and your your baby "receive" while you are pregnant. Most women see a gynecologist/obstetrician throughout their pregnancy, with prenatal appointments being more frequent as the pregnancy develops. Other pregnant ladies see a midwife or a family doctor instead. You do not have to be a passive receiver of your prenatal care, though as the mother, you are in a unique position to take steps that contribute to your health and your baby's. Not on a monthly or bi-weekly basis, but every day.
Blood tests, urine tests, ultrasounds, the glucose test for gestational diabetes and perhaps prenatal screening and diagnostic testing (like an amniocentesis) are part of nearly every woman's prenatal care. These important things happen at your doctor's office. But prenatal care is more than these epic events. Your own DIY prenatal care is really important.
Of course, you know all about healthy diets. Plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Not too much sugar and saturated fat, no alcohol during pregnancy, and an amount of calories that fits your needs. I've read one OBGYN claim on her blog that nutrition during pregnancy simply doesn't matter, unless the woman is from a developing country. That is, of course, nonsense.
You don't want nutritional deficiencies, and you want enough folic acid stores before you even get pregnant (start taking 400 mg daily three months before trying to conceive). You don't want a high-sugar diet, which increases your risk of gestational diabetes. You don't want a too much fat, which may result in a high birth weight baby. You don't want to starve yourself and deprive your baby of nutrients either. This one is, in other words, pretty obvious to most people.
Take care of your diet, and though you are not "eating for two" in the literal sense, two will benefit. Or more if you are carrying multiples, of course.
Monitor your blood pressure
Measuring blood pressure is part of the standard procedure when you see a prenatal care provider. This is with good reason, as plenty of expectant mothers either go into a pregnancy with hypertension or develop gestational hypertension (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure) after the 20th week of their pregnancy.
An extremely high blood pressure can point to preeclampsia, am extremely dangerous pregnancy complication that can be fatal when left untreated. The only treatment is delivery. If you have high blood pressure, you want to know about it. If you measure your own blood pressure daily or semi-daily, you know that this is your actual blood pressure and what you saw at the doctor's wasn't "white coat hypertension". Blood pressure monitors are not expensive, but you could also go to a pharmacy to get it checked.
Keep track of your baby's kicks
Once your baby starts kicking, it is really helpful to keep an eye on your baby's movement. You do not have to go so far as to write down every kick, but you could monitor at what time of the day or night your baby kicks, notice how vigorous and how long for. A significant reduction can point to problems you need to go to the hospital for.
Downing an ice cold glass of water often gets a sleepy baby going again. Prodding them to wake up may do the trick too. If this does not work and your baby has not moved for a long time, that's a sign to take action.
Does stress have a negative impact on your baby? Mothers who experienced extreme stress are more likely to give birth prematurely, and to have a baby with a low birth weight (despite gestational age). Research into psychological effects are also ongoing, and your baby may or may not see the mental consequences of your stress.
I say this not so that you feel guilty about being stressed, but so that you may take finding relief from stress more important. Many expectant mothers feel guilty about participating in relaxation activities. Don't. If it works for you, it may have many more benefits than just feeling good.