Health Essentials Checklist
Prepare yourself now for a healthy pregnancy.
Melinda Miller-Thrasher, MD
If you've decided that you're ready to have a baby, you want to make sure your little one arrives safe and sound. Start by making an appointment for a prepregnancy checkup. You should have this visit up to a year before you want to get pregnant, even if this isn't your first pregnancy.
Your Prepregnancy Checkup
By seeing your doctor, you can be certain your health is good. This will raise your chances for a safe pregnancy and a healthy baby, says Grace Lau, MD, an ob-gyn at NYU Langone Medical Center.
It's helpful to know what to expect, because the checkup involves more than a physical exam.
It's a conversation. Your doctor will want to talk with you about:
- Your personal and family medical history
- Your vaccination history. You may need to look this up before your visit.
- Your lifestyle habits:
- Smoking, alcohol use, and any illegal drug use
- What medications you use. Certain medicines can cause birth defects, so your doctor may recommend stopping or changing some of the meds you take.
- What you can do to improve your chances of conceiving
It's a health check. Your doctor will give you a thorough workup, including:
- Breast exam
- Depending on your family and personal history, blood tests for:
- Glucose (blood sugar)
- Liver function
- Rh factor
- Pelvic exam and Pap test
- Physical exam
Your doctor will also check for any health issues that could affect your pregnancy. Some conditions may make it harder to get pregnant or put your baby at risk.
- Depression or other mental health issues
- High blood pressure
- Overweight or obesity
- Prediabetes or diabetes
- Thyroid problems
If you have any of these conditions, your doctor will work with you to make sure they are under control before you conceive.
Depending on your risk factors, your doctor may also offer to test you for any sexually transmitted diseases. "I offer STD testing for everyone who requests it," says Lau.
Preparing Your Body for Pregnancy
Folic acid. Begin taking prenatal vitamins one month before you try to conceive. Taking 400 micrograms of folic acid per day makes some birth defects much less likely.
Omega-3s. Schaecher recommends looking for a prenatal vitamin that includes DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. This type of fat plays a role in your baby's brain and nervous system development.
Vaccines. Your doctor will check to see if you need any vaccines. This includes a flu shot. It's best to get them before you become pregnant. Getting vaccinated against rubella and chickenpox is especially important, since those illnesses can hurt your baby.
For some women, doctors may recommend genetic tests as part of your preconception visit.
These tests, which are optional, can determine whether you or your partner has genes that may make your baby more likely to have certain medical conditions.
"If there's anything that indicates a possible genetic disease, I usually have the couple sit down with a clinical geneticist and or genetic counselor," Lau says. They will talk with you about the benefits and limitations of the various tests you could have.
You may also consider genetic testing if you're having trouble getting pregnant or have had several miscarriages or a stillbirth.