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.
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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:
Rubella, or German measles immunity
Hepatitis B immunity
Other STDs (such as chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea)
Thyroid problems (with a TSH test)
Other conditions, such as toxoplasmosis and parvovirus B19 (also called fifth disease)
Finally, depending on your ethnicity, your doctor may recommend genetic tests for:
Sickle cell anemia
Thalassemia (an inherited form of anemia)
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.