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What is involved in a prenatal physical exam?

Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing

A prenatal exam includes a thorough medical, family and social history to obtain all the necessary information to help take care of you during your pregnancy. It also includes some family and medical history from the father of the baby to determine if there any genetic factors that might affect your baby. It also includes a regular physical exam like you would get with your primary care provider plus a thorough pelvic exam like you would get with your ob/gyn. A thorough physical is done to assure you have no medical problems that would affect your pregnancy. Many tests will be performed including pap smears, STD cultures, urine testing, bloodwork and ultrasounds. It is important to know things like your blood type, whether you are immune to things like rubella which can cause birth defects during pregnancy, as well as whether you currently have any signs of cancer or infections or any recent exposures to things which might harm your baby. Your uterus will be sized to see how far along your pregnancy is and if you are having more than one baby. A dating sonogram will also be ordered to confirm the findings. It is important to know your family history and the family history of the father of the baby to share with your health care provider. You should share with them any medicine you are taking and any allergies you may have. Do not be embarrassed to tell them about any history of abnormal pap smears, infections, history of batter or abuse, or if you have had an abortion or any procedure done to your uterus or cervix. This is really important to help us provide you the safest care for you and your baby. Make a list of questions to take with you for your first visit to your midwife or ob/gyn.

During the initial prenatal visit the physical examination will include a complete head to toe assessment of the woman. The purpose of a comprehensive examination is to gather baseline data about the woman’s health status as well as to identify any non-pregnancy related, pre-existing condition. A pelvic examination and collection of cultures and lab test will also be completed. At subsequent visits the physical examination is limited to an assessment of the growing pregnancy. In other words, the physical examination focuses on the abdomen, breasts and inquiries about bladder and bowel functions, weight gain, and vital signs. Specific laboratory tests are performed at designated intervals as are ultrasound examinations. During the first and second trimester vaginal exams are usually performed based on the presence of findings such as complaints of uterine contractions, vaginal bleeding or vaginal discharge. In the late third trimester a vaginal exam is usually performed at each visit to assess the cervix for signs of effacement and dilatation.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.