Prenatal care is a topic that comes up very frequently when it comes to pregnancy and birth. “Who is your provider?” might be the first question people ask after your happy announcement that a baby is coming. But what if you don’t plan to have a medical provider? Is it necessary to have this so called “prenatal care”? Should you be taking measurements and recording notes the way a doctor or midwife would? That’s for you to decide, of course. I just wanted to share a little bit of my thought process, and a little about what I have done to give you ideas for yourself as you face this question (by others, or for your own satisfaction).
What is prenatal care?
The question sounds like a no-brainer. “Going to regular appointments throughout pregnancy, and having tests done” might be one answer. “Being seen by a provider” is another answer. But what IS prenatal care anyway? Isn’t it taking care of your body and your baby during pregnancy? Don’t all mothers do that on the in-between-appointment-days? Eat as well as you can, avoid risky behaviors, and notice when something seems to be off or wrong to alert someone and get help?
When I became pregnant with my second child, and before I had fully committed to an unassisted pregnancy, I simply enjoyed the first twelve weeks or so of pregnancy and didn’t bother telling anyone in the medical profession that I was pregnant. My husband knew. I knew. My family knew. But there were no appointments. Twelve glorious weeks to enjoy. And then… When I realized that we were not going to have a midwife to hire for the birth, and I switched gears to “do it myself” I found myself delving into the world of “how do I do my own prenatal care?” Along the way my answer to that question changed a bunch, and some things I used to track I don’t anymore. Some things I didn’t track I now do. It’s a sort of fluid process, but I’m content with how it’s developed.
Why do prenatal care?
This question sounds unnecessary. “OF COURSE women should have prenatal care! Think of the baby. You want him or her to be healthy, right?” But actually… what passes for prenatal care these days is simply a lot of measuring and recording and tracking along the course of pregnancy. Pee in a cup. Test your urine for various things. Weigh the mom. Measure the fundus. Occasionally draw blood and look at the results of various tests. Perform ultrasounds to measure various organs and fluid levels of the baby. etc. etc. etc. When you ask yourself “Why?” try to determine who you would be doing it for? The baby? Other people? Your partner? or Yourself?
Margo from Indy Birth wrote this interesting blog post about self prenatal care. I wish I had read it before I embarked on my own journey. It may have shortened my “floundering phase” trying to figure out what I was doing, and why I should do it? But maybe I just needed to work through the process myself. Go read her post if you’re interested (link is her name) but basically she summarizes that prenatal care is
- Assessing growth
- “Clinical Stuff” and
- Emotional Support
I like those categories. But for now, let’s go back to “Why do prenatal care, who is it for?”
None of those things actually DO anything for the baby. They’re to track growth and chart on a graph, but baby could look great on paper and be ill, or tests may flag potential problems that turn out to be nothing. So the question remains, “Why do prenatal care?”
During an unassisted pregnancy you may want to keep records “just in case” something happens and you end up back at the hospital. It is daunting to face doctors with the answer “I didn’t have any prenatal care” so it’s nicer to plan to keep it for yourself. You’ll bring in those records and it’ll show you weren’t being negligent. That’s all fine and good, but it may turn into nothing. I doubt a hospital is going to take more than a passing glance at ANY records you bring in. Most likely they’ll have their own snap judgement of you before they even get a chance to see the printed documents, and may never even look at them at all.
This could be its own topic all on its own, but ask yourself truthfully, would keeping some kind of records put my partner’s mind and heart at ease in any way? If the answer is “yes” then that just might be enough cause to do full on prenatal records all on that merit. A partner who is on board and happy for you to have an unassisted pregnancy and birth is a blessing. Some partners might actually like to be in charge of recording the measurements. What better way to get dad involved is there?
Taking your blood pressure? Listening to heartbeat and recording which quadrant of your belly it was heard in? Recording your weight? Writing down any odd symptoms or changes from the last time? All these things are ways dad can be involved, measure, and record data during the pregnancy. I can’t think of a better way to have a willing dad participate. If that’s your partner, rejoice and go with it!
What about for YOU?
When it all came down to it, I kept notes and recorded measurements throughout my pregnancy for me. I tend to be a person who likes data, making and comparing charts, and going back and looking for patterns in the data. Recording blood pressure and weight and symptoms is really interesting for me and doesn’t cause anxiety. At first I thought I was keeping records because I “should be.” Eventually I decided that no one cared, or would ever look at my data from a clinical perspective… But I still wanted to know the stuff for myself!
If measuring and weighing and recording stresses you out. Let me encourage you by saying, “You don’t have to measure. You don’t have to record anything. You don’t even need to pretend to keep records.” No one is going to test you. If anyone asks you in a way that makes you think they’re going to ask to see these so-called-charts on your pregnancy, simply look them in the eye, smile sweetly, and say, “Thank you for your interest and concern. I’m fine.” Then change the subject. OR Say something like, “I’m happy to continue trusting my body. At this time I have no concerns. If anything comes up that concerns me, I’m planning on consulting a doctor. Thanks for your concern.” But in all likelihood no one will ask, or press for more information.
The decision is yours
For some of you the permission NOT to stress over “doing self prenatal care” and enjoy pregnancy gloriously free of testing and appointments and stress is all you want.. Go for it! Enjoy your baby and your body free from “should dos” and anticipate baby’s arrival with joy.
For others of you, like me, there is an intrigue and mystery to be discovered by “doing it ourselves.” For you, I’ll happily share a bit of what I recorded and measured to give you ideas to try yourself. But that’s for another post…
If you’re interested in other points of view on the topic of “Self Prenatal Care” I would recommend [This] podcast by Margo Blackstone called “Exploring Self-Care in Pregnancy with Amy Giove”