You're ready to have a baby! It's exciting to think about starting or growing your family, and there's a lot you'll need to do to prepare for your new little one. One of the first steps you should take is to get preconception care from your doctor at least 3 months before you become pregnant. It will improve your chance of conceiving, help reduce the risk of birth defects, and get you as ready as possible for a healthy pregnancy and baby. Talking with your doctor can also help you be more emotionally prepared for pregnancy. Here's what you can expect at your preconception visit.
Your Preconception Checkup
At this visit, your doctor may perform a physical exam, including a pelvic exam and Pap smear. He or she also may order tests to screen for sexually transmitted diseases or other conditions. Make sure your partner also is tested for STDs.
Your doctor will want to talk with you about things that may affect you and your pregnancy or your unborn baby, including:
Medications. Certain medications can increase the risk for birth defects. Tell your doctor about any medicines or supplements you are taking, including prescription and OTC meds, vitamins, and dietary or herbal supplements. Your doctor will explain which medicines are safe to take before and during pregnancy.
Vaccinations. Your doctor will check to see whether your vaccinations, such as rubella, chicken pox, and hepatitis B, are up to date. If not, your doctor will recommend that you get vaccinated. These diseases can cause birth defects if you get them while pregnant.
Chronic health problems. Certain health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, or lupus can increase the risk for problems during pregnancy. If you have a chronic health condition, your doctor will want to work with you to make sure it is under control before you become pregnant.
Medical and family histories. Tell your doctor about your and your partner's medical and family history. You may want to ask older family members ahead of time about any health problems that run in your family.
Genetic screening and counseling. Depending on your personal or family health history, you may want to meet with a genetic counselor to determine your risk for diseases such as Down syndrome, sickle cell anemia, and Tay-Sachs.
Drug and alcohol use. Smoking, drinking alcohol, and using street drugs increase the risk for premature birth, birth defects, and infant death. If you have trouble quitting, ask your doctor about options for counseling and treatment.
Other things your doctor will want to discuss may include:
- Any problems you've had with any previous pregnancies.
- What you can do to help prevent birth defects.
- How to avoid illness and improve your overall health.
- How to chart menstrual cycles to tell when you're most likely to get pregnant.
- Family concerns such as domestic violence and level of emotional support.
Tips to Prepare for Pregnancy
You can do a lot in your day-to-day life to increase your chance of delivering a healthy baby. At your preconception checkup, your doctor will discuss taking steps like these beginning at least 3 months before you become pregnant:
Take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day to help prevent birth defects.
- Stop smoking and drinking alcohol.
- Stock up on healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and calcium-rich foods like milk and yogurt.
- Eat fish (8 to 12 ounces per week), but avoid types high in mercury (tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel), which can damage your baby's developing brain and nervous system.
- Exercise regularly to prepare your body for pregnancy and to help relieve stress.
- Avoid hot tubs and saunas, which may increase the risk for certain birth defects.
- Avoid being around toxic chemicals, such as fertilizers or pesticides, and cat or rodent feces. Tell your doctor if you work around potentially harmful substances and ask what you can do to limit your exposure.
- Remember that your partner's health matters, too. Good diet and exercise habits as well as not smoking can help improve his fertility.