What is a preconception checkup and why is it important?
A preconception checkup helps your health care provider make sure that your body is ready for pregnancy. You can get a preconception checkup any time — even up to a year before you want to get pregnant. Some medical conditions, like depression, diabetes, high blood pressure and not being at a healthy weight can affect pregnancy and your fertility (your ability to get pregnant). Smoking, using street drugs and abusing prescription drugs can affect them, too.
Get a preconception checkup even if you’ve already had a baby. Your health may have changed since you were last pregnant. If you had a problem in a past pregnancy, your provider may be able to help you avoid the same problem in your next pregnancy. Get a preconception checkup if you’ve had:
- Premature birth. This is birth that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy.
- A baby with birth defects. Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. They change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, in how the body develops or in how the body works.
- This is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
- This is when a baby dies in the womb before birth, but after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
You should do all tests such as:
- Prenatal vaccinations. Your immune function is somewhat lower during pregnancy, making expectant moms more susceptible to infections and complications. Vaccinations can go a long way to preventing or reducing the severity of illnesses that can make you sick or harm your baby during pregnancy.
- The flu shot is always recommended for women who are pregnant during flu season, Live vaccines like varicella (chicken pox) and rubella (German measles) are out of the question during pregnancy, so it’s recommended that you get tested for immunity and, if necessary, get vaccinated before trying to get pregnant.
- Sexually transmitted infections. There are a number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can lead to infertility or affect your health or your baby’s health during pregnancy. Both chlamydia and gonorrhea often go undiagnosed because many people who have these STIs don’t have any symptoms.
- Genetic screening. Your age, family history and ethnic background can factor into the risk of your child being born with genetic conditions, some of which can severely reduce the quality and length of a child’s life. Some genetic conditions are more common in certain populations. For example, blood disorders like thalassemia and hemoglobinopathy are more prevalent among people of African, Mediterranean and Asian decent. Cystic fibrosis is most common among Caucasian people. People of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are more likely to be carriers of Tay-Sachs disease, Canavan disease and a number of other conditions that are fatal or severely reduce a child’s quality of life.
- Folic acid. Folic acid is a vitamin that every cell in your body needs for healthy growth and development. If you take folic acid before pregnancy and during early pregnancy, it can help protect your baby from birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects, and birth defects of the mouth called cleft lip and palate.
- Medicines you take. Your provider wants to make sure any medicine you take is safe for your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter (also called OTC) medicines, supplements and herbal products. A prescription medicine is medicine your health care provider says you can take to treat a health condition.
- When to stop using birth control. Birth control (also called contraception) is methods you use to keep from getting pregnant. Your provider may suggest you stop using birth control a few months before you start trying to get pregnant to let your body have a few normal menstrual cycles. Having normal cycles before pregnancy can help your provider figure out your due date when you do get pregnant.
- Give you a pelvic exam. This is an exam of the pelvic organs, like the vagina, cervix, uterus and ovaries, to make sure they’re healthy. The cervix is the opening to your uterus that sits at the top of the vagina. If you have any problems in these organs, getting treatment before pregnancy may help prevent problems during pregnancy.
- Do a Pap test. This is a medical test in which your provider collects cells from your cervix to check for cancer.
- Test your blood to check your blood type and Rh factor. Rh factor is a protein found on red blood cells. If your Rh factor is negative, it can cause problems for your baby if her Rh factor is positive.
- Unsafe chemicals at home or work. Some chemicals, like cleaning products, paint and weed killer, can be harmful to your baby during pregnancy. Talk to your provider about how to protect yourself to help keep your baby safe.