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Medical Care for Pregnant Women


Sunday, June 1, 2008
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Expecting a baby? Now
learn what to expect from American healthcare.

Expecting a baby is a happy experience, but it can also be a
bit frightening and overwhelming. Mary, a recent arrival from Africa,
is worried about her co-worker, Helen. Like Mary, Helen lived through a civil
war in her home country and is now settled in the United States. Helen and her
husband are expecting their first baby in just three months. But she does not
understand American doctors and hospitals, and doesn’t have health insurance. In
her home country, Helen would be able to talk with her mother and other women.
But in the United States
she feels alone and doesn’t know what to do.

One day Helen confided in a nurse at the nursing home where
she works that she was worried about having the baby. Over lunch, the nurse
talked about her experience having a baby and gave Helen guidance on finding a
doctor and planning for delivery.

While it’s best to talk with a doctor before becoming
pregnant, that isn’t always possible. Once a woman knows she is pregnant, though,
she should meet with a doctor. Sometimes women experience problems during
pregnancy that can cause health issues for the mother or the baby. Health
concerns like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart problems can affect a
mother and her baby. By receiving medical care earlier in a pregnancy, both
mother and baby are more likely to be healthy.

Pregnant mothers are usually cared for by doctors called obstetricians/gynecologists
(OB/GYNs) who specialize in pregnancy, childbirth and caring for women. Family
practitioner doctors and certified nurse-midwives have also been trained to
provide medical care to pregnant women. Doulas work with pregnant women by
providing physical and emotional support during and after pregnancy and
childbirth. But they do not provide direct medical care.

During a first visit with a doctor, a woman will be asked
about her health history and have a full physical exam. Blood and urine samples
will be taken for different medical tests. This is a good time to talk with a
doctor about the best foods to eat and taking aspirin or vitamins.

Women don’t need to attend their doctor appointments alone.
A husband, close friend or relative is welcome at appointments to support the
woman in the process.

Women who are healthy and don’t have complications will
usually visit their doctors monthly until the seventh month of pregnancy when
the appointments are every two weeks. During the last month of pregnancy, women
will usually visit their doctors every week. At each appointment the woman will
be weighed and measured to determine if the baby is growing the right amount.
Her blood pressure will also be taken at each appointment to watch for
complications.

Most women will have at least one ultrasound. An ultrasound
is a picture of the baby taken with medical equipment. The picture of the baby
is seen on a computer screen. The ultrasound lets the doctor see how the baby
is developing. It can reveal health issues or complications so the doctor and
parents can be prepared.

Expecting a baby can make a woman feel tired. It’s important
for both her and the baby that she gets enough rest and eats a healthy diet.
Pregnant women should also avoid smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs.
These can cause health problems for both the mother and the baby. If you are
pregnant and have heavy bleeding, a loss of fluid or other major physical
change, contact a doctor immediately to get medical advice.

Even women without health insurance can and will receive
prenatal care. If you or someone you know is expecting a baby, contact a
medical professional today. Portico Healthnet and the Minnesota Department of
Human Services will provide information about free and low-cost health care
programs for refugees and immigrants. For information, contact Portico
Healthnet at (651) 603-5100 or the Minnesota Department of Human Services at
(651) 431-2670.

The Center for
Victims of Torture is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to heal the
wounds of torture on individuals, their families and their communities and to
stop torture worldwide. For information or referral, call 612-436-4800.

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