We all know about the importance of prenatal medical care in assuring the health of a pregnant woman and her baby. But most experts now recommend that women start seeing an obstetrician before they become pregnant for something called pre-pregnancy or preconception care.
It may seem excessive -- after all, why start worrying before you're pregnant? But a doctor can help even at an early stage. He or she may run tests to make sure that you and your partner don't have any hidden illnesses that could affect your pregnancy or your chances of becoming pregnant. Your doctor can also give you advice about exercise, eating, lifestyle and folic acid supplement. Some studies show that preconception care can increase your chances of becoming pregnant and reduce the risks of miscarriage or birth defects.
Exercise should be encouraged for both women and men who are gearing up to try to conceive. However, excessive, strenuous exercise in women may result in disruption of the ovulation cycle, thereby affecting her periods. Normal exercise has not been linked to miscarriages (loss of pregnancy), but certain forms of exercise (for example, high-impact or contact sports or scuba diving) should be avoided in pregnancy. In men, too much exercise may cause a low sperm count.
Your doctor will want to start a pre-pregnancy checkup by getting a full medical history from both you and your partner. He or she may also want to run a number of tests -- such as blood tests and a Pap smear -- to make sure that neither of you have any medical conditions that could affect pregnancy or your chances of conceiving. Your doctor might test for illnesses such as:
Genetic diseases common in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, such as Tay-Sachs disease
If it's time for you to update your vaccines, it's important to do so before you are pregnant. A few specific vaccinations, such as the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella), varicella (the virus that causes chickenpox), or hepatitis A vaccines increase the risk of birth defects. Experts advise that you wait at least 28 days after receiving some of these vaccinations before trying to conceive.