Millions of women give birth every year, and nearly a third of them will have some kind of pregnancy-related complication. Those who don't get proper prenatal care run the risk that such complications won't be found or won't be dealt with soon enough. And that can lead to potentially serious problems for both the mother and her baby. That's why it's so important to start prenatal care as early as possible - ideally, before a woman even becomes pregnant. Of course, this isn't always possible or practical. But the sooner in pregnancy good care begins, the better for the health of both moms and their babies. Prenatal care should start before you get pregnant. If you're planning a pregnancy, see your health care provider for a complete checkup. Routine testing can make sure you're in good health and that you don't have any illnesses or other conditions that could affect your pregnancy. Certain lab tests might be ordered at your first visit, including:

  • A complete blood count (CBC): This screens for blood problems such as anemia (low blood count).
  • RPR: This test screens for syphilis (a sexually transmitted disease).
  • Rubella: This tests for immunity (protection) against German measles.
  • HBsAg: This tests for hepatitis B (a liver infection).
  • Urinalysis: This tests for kidney disease or bladder infections.
  • Type and screen blood test: This determines your blood type and Rh factor, an antigen or protein on the surface of blood cells that can cause an immune system response.

If you've been having any unusual symptoms, this is a good time to report them. If you're already being treated for a chronic condition, such as diabetes, asthma, hypertension (high blood pressure), a heart problem, allergies, lupus (an inflammatory disorder that can affect several body systems), depression, or some other condition, you should talk to your doctor about how it could affect a pregnancy. In some cases, you may need to change or stop certain medicines - especially during the first trimester (12 weeks) - to reduce risk to the fetus. Or, you may need to be even more careful about managing your condition. For example, women with diabetes must take extra care to keep their blood glucose levels under control - both before they begin trying to conceive and during pregnancy. Abnormal levels increase the risk of birth defects and other complications. Ask about taking a prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid, calcium, and iron. It's especially important for women who plan to become pregnant to take vitamins with folic acid because neural tube defects (problems with the development of the spine and nervous system) happen in the first 28 days of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she's pregnant. If you or your partner have a family history of a significant genetic disorder and think either of you may be a carrier, genetic testing may be wise. Talk this over with your health care provider, who can refer you to a genetic counselor if necessary. This is also a good time to talk with your health care provider any habits that could pose a risk to your baby, such as drinking alcohol or smoking. Be sure to check with your pregnancy health clinic to monitor your pregnancy and the health of your baby during pregnancy.