Good quality antenatal care is one of the most effective ways to prevent pregnancy complications. This examination is the routine care that women can expect to receive during their pregnancy. It is very important to go to all scheduled appointments where both, the mother and the baby, are closely examined. During these visits, risk factors can be identified and possible health consequences can be prevented or treated. To ensure the best care and health during pregnancy, a woman should go to her responsible health care professional already when anticipating a pregnancy.
Today, a standard antenatal care package of certain examinations and tests is available for pregnant women in most European countries. The origins of antenatal care in Europe can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century in the UK. The introduction of the first model of antenatal care contributed substantially to the decrease of maternal and newborn mortality in the last century. Its content and shape was according to the knowledge and medical capabilities of that time. This included very few visits at the beginning of pregnancy where the doctor had limited options to diagnose and treat. The highest frequency of visits was set during the last trimester of pregnancy (see old model in graphic). Since then, the structure of antenatal care has largely remained unchanged.
Nowadays, however, many complications and diseases can be detected very early in pregnancy as medical knowledge and technology have improved substantially over the years. The possibility of early identification of risk factors and detection of complications at 11-13 weeks of pregnancy enables effective treatment or even prevention of a disease. Prof. Kypros Nicolaides (Fetal Medicine Foundation, UK) developed a new concept of antenatal care, which incorporates these developments and focuses on the very early weeks of pregnancy to identify high risks. These can be monitored very closely and can receive special medical care during the whole course of the pregnancy. Women identified to be at low risk in the beginning of pregnancy, on the other hand, do not need such frequent and specialised antenatal care. This inverted pyramid of care enables a much more individualised patient and disease-specific approach of antenatal care.