What is antenatal care?
Antenatal care or 'pregnancy care' is the healthcare and support you have while you’re pregnant. This is to make sure you and your unborn baby are as well as possible throughout your pregnancy.
Antenatal appointments are spaced out through your pregnancy. The midwife looking after you will:
- check your health and the wellbeing of your baby
- watch out for any problems so you can get support early
- give you and your baby any special treatment you need
- give you information about how to look after your health and your baby's
- answer any questions you have
- help you plan your baby's birth
- put you in touch with any other support you may need.
The first antenatal appointment is known as the ‘booking appointment’. This usually happens between 8 and 12 weeks of your pregnancy.
Where will I have my antenatal care?
Depending on your health, your circumstances and where you live, you may be offered antenatal care at:
- your local health centre, birth unit, children's centre or young person's project
- your doctor's surgery
- your local hospital
- your home, with visits from the midwife or doctor.
If you are expecting twins or triplets, or have other risk factors, you will probably have at least two of your antenatal appointments with an obstetrician at the hospital.
How can I find a midwife for my antenatal appointments?
Your GP can refer you to a hospital or a midwife-led team for antenatal care and delivery. However, many NHS hospitals/midwife teams, also offer the option of self-referral. If you know which hospital or trust you want to have your antenatal care and your baby in, you can refer yourself. The hospital website should have more details. Please note that not all hospitals allow self-referral.
If you're not sure which trust or hospital you're allowed to book into for antenatal care, your GP practice will be able to let you know. You can also find maternity services near you by putting your postcode into this NHS search box.
If you would like a private midwife, visit Independent Midwives UK and put your postcode in the search box to find details of midwives in your area.
Why are antenatal appointments important?
Regular antenatal appointments are important to:
- keep an eye on how your baby is growing.
- pick up some conditions such as pre-eclampsia and urinary tract infections – these might not have any early symptoms that you would notice but routine blood-pressure checks and urine tests can pick up on them, even if you feel fine
- check the health of your baby through blood tests and ultrasound scans.
If you don’t want to go because you're worried about having blood tests, tell the midwife about your fears.
If you can't go to an antenatal appointment, let your midwife or the hospital know so you can make another one.
Will I have internal examinations?
No, it’s unlikely you will have an internal examination (inside your vagina) until you go into labour unless there is any concern that needs to be investigated.
Towards the end of the pregnancy, you will be offered a membrane sweep if it looks like your baby will be late. This involves your midwife putting a finger inside your vagina to reach your cervix and gently making sweeping movements to separate the membranes.
Once you go into labour you will have one to find out how far advanced your labour is.
Read more about internal examinations.
Can I take someone with me to my antenatal appointments?
You can go to your appointments on your own or you can take someone with you. If you take someone, they can stay in the waiting room or come into the room with you, whichever you prefer.
If you decide to bring someone with you, the midwife will probably ask to see you on your own at least once. This is in case there's anything you want to tell her that you don't want to say in front of the other person.
How many appointment will I have?
This will depend on your circumstances. If you're expecting your first child you'll have up to 10 antenatal appointments. If you've had a baby before you'll have around 7 appointments. You may have more if you have a medical condition or develop one during pregnancy.
How long are antenatal appointments?
The first antenatal appointment is known as the ‘booking appointment’ and takes the longest - it can be up to an hour. You will be asked lots of questions about your health, your family’s health and the baby’s dad’s health - particularly questions about any illnesses in the family that might affect your baby.
The midwife is finding out everything she needs to make sure that she can support you and your baby during your pregnancy.
After the booking appointment, your visits will be much shorter. They’ll take around 10 to 15 minutes if your pregnancy is uncomplicated – enough time to take your blood pressure and a urine test, and feel how your baby is growing in later months.
If you have any questions about your pregnancy, you can ask them at these appointments.
Read more about the ways your midwife watches for pregnancy complications.