More American women die of pregnancy-related complications than any other developed country. Only in the U.S. has the rate of women who die been rising, which is why getting early and regular prenatal care is essential for a healthy and full-term pregnancy. Regular prenatal care throughout pregnancy helps to catch potential concerns early and reduces the risk of pregnancy and birth complications. Even before a woman conceives, she should be taking a prenatal vitamin, be checked for immunity to rubella and blood type, should quit smoking and drinking alcohol, and be eating a healthy diet. Once a woman is pregnant, prenatal care is essential to ensuring a healthy pregnancy, baby and mother. Here’s the 101 of prenatal care and what to expect:

As soon as you believe you are pregnant, make an appointment with your OB/Gyn. You can expect to see your OB often and regularly throughout your pregnancy. Typically, you will be scheduled for your first prenatal appointment when you are at least eight weeks pregnant. At your first prenatal visit, your doctor will review your medical history. He or she will perform a complete physical examination as well as urine and blood tests during this visit.

For the typical, healthy pregnancy, prenatal visits are usually scheduled as follows:

  • Up to week 28: 1 prenatal visit a month
  • Weeks 32 to 36: 1 prenatal visit every 2 weeks
  • Weeks 36 to 40: 1 prenatal visit every week

At each visit, your doctor will check on you and your baby. He or she will talk with you about the things you can do help you and your baby stay healthy throughout the pregnancy. Your healthcare provider may also order blood tests and imaging tests, such as an ultrasound.

After the first visit, most prenatal visits will include:

  • Checking your blood pressure and weight
  • Checking the baby’s heart rate
  • Measuring your abdomen to check your baby’s growth

It is of the utmost importance that you feel like a partner with your doctor to manage your care and pregnancy. Keep all of your appointments — every one is essential to the health of you and your baby.