Preconception Checkup: What It Is and Why You Need One

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When you’re pregnant (and then once you have a newborn), you will go to frequent doctor’s appointments and checkups. But, to make sure you are healthy when your pregnancy begins, it’s a good idea to head to your doctor even before you get pregnant. (You should already be getting a complete checkup once a year but deciding to have a baby calls for extra discussions, tests, and exams: read on to find out which ones and why they are important.)

Why you need it

A preconception checkup will help your doctor identify any health conditions that may impact your ability to conceive and carry a healthy pregnancy. Even if you’ve already had a baby, a preconception checkup is recommended before each pregnancy, since your health status may have changed since your last pregnancy. It’s especially important to get a preconception checkup if you have had a baby born before 37 weeks of gestation, had a baby born with a birth defect, or had a miscarriage or stillbirth.

As soon as you think you may want to start trying to conceive, you can see your doctor: if you need to make lifestyle changes or learn to manage chronic health conditions, you may need several months (or sometimes years) to get your own health in order before getting pregnant.

What your doctor will ask

Do you have any ongoing medical conditions? Does your family or your partner’s family have a history of any serious medical issues or genetic issues?

At a preconception checkup, you and your healthcare provider will talk about the health conditions you have, as well as the medical history of your family and your partner’s family.

Your doctor may do a complete physical exam, including a pelvic exam, at your preconception checkup. You may also undergo blood tests to screen for certain diseases, including cystic fibrosis and conditions that affect your blood.

What medications are you taking?

You will also discuss current medications you take, as well as vitamins and supplements you may need to take to improve your health. Folic acid is one of the primary vitamins that you should be taking—even before you conceive—and your doctor may recommend that you start taking a multivitamin containing folic acid. (Folic acid is required for brain and spinal cord development in your baby.)

What form of contraception are you using right now? How soon do you want to get pregnant?

 If you are currently using any form of contraception, your doctor will tell you when to stop using it. You will also discuss your menstrual cycles to determine the best time for you to conceive.

Are your immunizations up to date?

Your doctor will tell you which vaccinations you should make sure you have received before you get pregnant. Some diseases, like chicken pox and rubella, can harm your baby if you get them while you are pregnant, so your immunizations should be up to date before conceiving.

Do you smoke, drink alcohol, or use drugs?

You should also discuss any smoking, alcohol drinking, and illegal or recreational drug use, as well as any chemicals to which you are routinely exposed at home or work.  Your doctor can help provide support if you are trying to quit any of these habits.

Do you have any emotional or psychological concerns about getting pregnant?

Depending on your own or your family history, a mental health screening may also be completed. If you are currently under the care of a mental health professional, it’s a good idea to discuss your conception plans with him or her, as well. You should also discuss any emotional concerns you have related to your pregnancy, such as risks of domestic violence and family support.

What you should ask

Am I at a healthy weight?

At your preconception checkup, you will discuss your current weight and, if you are over or under your ideal weight, your doctor may advise steps to take to get you closer to your ideal body weight before conceiving. Engaging in an active lifestyle and eating a healthy, balanced diet will help your body prepare for pregnancy.

What is my blood type?

You should know your own blood type. If a mother has a “negative” blood type, it may add extra risks to your baby and your pregnancy, so it’s best to know if this may be a concern before you get pregnant.

Should I still go to the dentist?

In addition to a medical checkup, you should receive regular dental care before pregnancy. Some studies have linked healthy teeth and gums with healthy pregnancy, so get treatment for any dental problems before you get pregnant.

How it will help

Planning for a healthy pregnancy begins months to years before conception. A preconception checkup will improve your chances of conceiving, decrease the risk of birth defects, and get you emotionally prepared for pregnancy. But, don’t leave your partner out – it takes two healthy people to make a healthy baby, so encourage him to stay healthy and ask him to make an appointment with his own healthcare provider before you start trying to conceive. Remember, the best way to care for your baby is to care for yourself long before the baby is even a twinkle in your eye.

Jennifer Gibson
Dr. Jennifer Gibson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from Clemson University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Medical College of Virginia School of Pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University. She trained as a hospital pharmacist and is the author of clinical textbooks, peer-reviewed journal articles, and continuing education programs for the medical community, as well as a contributor to award-winning healthcare blogs and websites. In her free time, she enjoys running, reading, traveling, and spending time with her family.

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