An antenatal visit is any appointment with your GP or maternity unit that relates to your pregnancy.
You will have approximately 8-10 appointments with your doctor or midwife during your pregnancy. You may have additional appointments if you are diagnosed with a pregnancy-related condition (such as high blood pressure or gestational diabetes, or if you are pregnant with twins or multiple babies).
If you have registered for the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme, these antenatal visits will be free.
You are also entitled to take paid time off from your employment to attend antenatal appointments (and some antenatal classes). Your employment rights during pregnancy are protected in Irish law.
Antenatal visits during COVID-19
All hospitals have had to make changes to how they deliver their services due to COVID-19. If you have an upcoming antenatal visit, you may have to attend your appointment alone. Check what visitor restrictions are in place with your maternity hospital/unit. The HSE has up-to-date information on hospitals in every county so you can check about appointments and what visitor restrictions are in place before you go.
Your first antenatal visit
If you have registered for the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme, your first appointment will be with your GP. They will do antenatal checks (such as blood pressure and urine checks) and give you information on how to have a healthy pregnancy. They will help you estimate your due date, and they might discuss folic acid, exercise and healthy eating with you.
Your GP will also talk to you about vaccines. You will be offered a flu vaccine during one of your appointments (the flu season is from October to April). While the appointment will be free, you may be charged for the administration of the flu vaccine if you do not have a medical card.
When you are between 16-36 weeks, you will also be offered a vaccination to protect your baby from whooping cough (pertussis). This is available free of charge.
Your first visit to the hospital or maternity unit
Your first visit to the hospital or maternity unit is called a ‘booking visit’. It usually takes place between 8-12 weeks of your pregnancy.
During this appointment, you will:
- Tell a midwife about your medical history, family history and any previous pregnancies.
- Have your blood pressure checked.
- Have your urine checked.
- Have a blood test.
- Get information about antenatal classes and breastfeeding.
- Be referred for specialist appointments if needed (for example, with physiotherapists, dietitians, smoking cessation specialists or alcohol cessation specialists).
- Have the opportunity to ask the midwife any questions.
In some hospitals, you may have an ultrasound scan on your first visit, at others you will have it at around 20 weeks.
Your first visit to hospital will last approximately 2 hours. If your pregnancy is normal, follow-up visits will be much shorter.
At each follow-up antenatal visit, your blood pressure will be checked, you will give a urine sample, and you will be examined.
If you have any questions or worries related to your pregnancy, you should ask the midwife or doctor.
At 20-22 weeks
You have reached the halfway point of your pregnancy.
You may be offered a foetal anomaly or anatomy scan at the hospital. Some hospitals offer this to every pregnant woman and other hospitals can only offer this to women with higher risk pregnancies. Most scans will show you that your baby is developing normally. However, sometimes a baby is born with a health problem. A foetal anatomy scan will detect many of these problems.
If an anomaly is detected, a referral will be made to an obstetrician who specialises in foetal anomalies. This allows you and your obstetrician to make plans for the birth and for any aftercare you and your baby may need.
From 28 weeks
Your midwife or doctor will continue to monitor your health. They will check for signs of high blood pressure or other complications.
They will also check the position of your baby and the baby’s development, as well as the height of your womb (uterus) and your baby’s heart rate.
You may not need to be scanned after your scan at 20 weeks, unless you are advised that you need one.
Your midwife or obstetrician will also talk to you about:
- Preparing for the birth
- Any concerns you may have
Employment and antenatal visits
You should tell your employer in writing (providing medical evidence of your pregnancy) that you need time off to attend antenatal appointments. You should give at least 2 weeks' written notice of the date and time of your appointments.
If this notice is not given for reasons out of your control, then you can retain your entitlement, provided you write to your employer with an explanation and with the notice. You will need to do this within 1 week of the appointment.
For any visit after the first appointment, your employer may ask to see your appointment card. You are entitled to medical visits after the birth of your baby for 14 weeks following the birth, including any period taken on maternity leave following the birth.
Employment and antenatal classes
You may also be entitled to take paid time off from work to attend antenatal classes. Antenatal classes cover a wide range of topics such as pain relief, breastfeeding, nutrition, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and preparing you and your family for the birth of your baby. Most hospitals offer antenatal classes (sometimes called parent craft classes) which you can attend near the time of birth. Your partner or a friend can attend these classes with you.
If you are an expectant mother, you are entitled to attend 1 set of classes (except the last 3 in a set) over all your pregnancies while in employment. For example, if you are attending a set of 8 classes and this is your first pregnancy in employment, you are only entitled to paid time off work to attend 5 of those classes. The last 3 classes would normally occur after your maternity leave has started.
If you are an expectant father, you have a once-off right to attend the 2 classes immediately prior to the birth.