Pregnancy and prenatal care go hand in hand. Early and regular prenatal visits help your health care provider monitor your health and the growth of the fetus.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends scheduling your first prenatal visit as soon as you think you are pregnant, even if you have confirmed your pregnancy with a home pregnancy test.

Whether you’re a first-time parent or an experienced one, a positive pregnancy test comes with a lot of emotions and a lot of questions. You’ll have an opportunity to get many of them answered at your first prenatal care appointment which will likely be one of your longest.

Your first prenatal visit will most likely be scheduled sometime after your eighth week of pregnancy. Most health care providers won’t schedule a visit any earlier unless you:

■ have another medical condition or are considered “high risk.”

■ have had problems with a pregnancy in the past, or

■ are having symptoms such as spotting or bleeding, stomach pain, or severe nausea and vomiting.

Your first prenatal care visit is an optimal time to:

■ get answers to your questions.

■ review your pregnancy care choices.

■ discuss your own health factors, and

■ talk about steps you can take to protect your baby during pregnancy.

At this visit, your health care provider will carefully review your health history and discuss your anticipated pregnancy course, along with sharing any cautions unique to your pregnancy.

An ultrasound may be ordered to confirm your due date. Beyond the standard laboratory tests, you will likely be offered a number of optional tests, such as screening for cystic fibrosis, down syndrome and spina bifida. Other tests may be offered, depending on your health history and age.

The best way to get the most out of all of your prenatal visits during your pregnancy is to be prepared. Get in the habit of writing down your questions as you think of them.

Here are some questions to get you started for the first prenatal visit:

■ How much weight should I gain, and at what rate?

■ Do I have an increased risk of any specific complications or conditions?

■ What type of screenings or tests will I need?

■ What kind of diet should I follow? Are there any food restrictions I need to be aware of?

■ What about exercise? What type and amount is safe for me and my baby?

■ Are there any restrictions on engaging in sex during pregnancy?

■ Are there any restrictions about traveling while pregnant?

■ Which over-the-counter medications are safe, and in what amounts? Are there any medications that I should avoid?

■ What about the prescription medications I’m currently taking? Are they safe? If not, what can I take instead?

■ Which prenatal vitamin do you recommend?

■ Which prenatal classes do you recommend?

■ What should I do if I have cramping? Spotting? Run a fever?

If I have questions or problems between my prenatal visits, how should I contact your office (phone, email or through a secure patient portal)? Who should I speak with?

Your health care provider’s medical team can help guide you throughout your pregnancy by:

■ providing education and offering reassurances.

■ scheduling lab tests.

■ coordinating your medical care.

■ facilitating communications between you and your health care provider.

Becoming an active participant in your own health care can help expectant parents feel more comfortable and confident throughout their pregnancy. The ultimate goal of prenatal care is to have a healthy pregnancy, a safe delivery and a wonderful birthing experience.

Dr. Alexander Mamonov is an OB/GYN at the Women’s Health Center at Bay Area Medical Center, 3003 University Drive in Marinette. His office can be reached at 715-735-4602.