What is Prenatal Medicine?

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  • Written By: Autumn Rivers
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Prenatal medicine is the practice of caring for the unborn baby during pregnancy. Medical professionals involved in this industry usually perform tests on the fetus to screen for health problems, preside over ultrasounds, and attempt to treat birth defects, disorders, and infections. Most doctors in the practice of prenatal medicine are called perinatologists, or maternal-fetal specialists, and are usually in charge of monitoring and providing care for high-risk pregnancies in which medical issues have been found. On the other hand, an obstetrician/gynecologist or midwife often also monitors and treats the unborn baby, during both normal and high-risk pregnancies.

The typical obstetrician/gynecologist, or OB/GYN, provides prenatal care for both the mother and the baby, with appointments that usually occur at least monthly throughout the pregnancy. Monitoring of the fetus usually involves uterus measurements to make sure that the unborn baby is growing, use of a Doppler to determine fetal heart rate, and the occasional ultrasound to check for proper development. Typical prenatal medicine may also require that the mother be checked for conditions like preeclampsia and placenta previa, which may result in preterm delivery, often leading to an unhealthy baby. Most healthy pregnancies are presided over by an OB/GYN, though complicated pregnancies may be referred elsewhere.


Perinatologists are usually skilled at treating high-risk pregnancies, in which there are complications with the fetus that require more advanced knowledge of prenatal medicine. Typically, this kind of doctor performs extra ultrasounds to continually check on the development of the fetus, and 3D ultrasounds in particular are often used in order to see specific details. Prenatal medicine performed by this type of doctor also often includes the first trimester screening, which checks for chromosomal disorders like trisomy 21. This may allow for early treatment when possible, or prepare the parents for either birth defects or fetal death while in the womb.

Other factors of prenatal medicine may include additional types of testing, such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling during the first or second trimesters. These are usually performed only after the first trimester screening reveals a possible abnormality, as there is a very small risk of miscarriage due to these tests. It should be known, however, that no amount of screenings, ultrasounds, or constant fetal monitoring can guarantee to spot all abnormalities in the fetus. Additionally, while the use of prenatal medicine in high-risk pregnancy is important in catching and treating medical issues early, its ability to provide parents with peace of mind is often considered an equally important benefit.


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