Starting a Family Begins with a Preconception Check Up

Having a baby can be an exciting time in a woman’s life. Before starting a family, a woman should see her doctor to make sure she is in good health--for herself and the health of the baby.

Some women like to go in for preconception counseling so they can discuss health and any concerns before trying to conceive. This visit will improve a woman’s chance for conceiving, help reduce the risk of birth defects, and get the woman as ready as possible for pregnancy.

Preconception care should begin at least three months before becoming pregnant. The doctor may do a pelvic exam and a Pap smear as well as tests to screen for sexually transmitted diseases and other conditions. The doctor will also want to talk about:

  • Medications: Some medications can increase the risk for birth defects so it is important to tell the doctor about any medicines or supplements, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and dietary or herbal supplements.
  • Vaccinations: The doctor will see whether vaccinations, such as rubella, chicken pox, hepatitis B, and pertussis are up to date. If not, it is recommended to get vaccinated as some of these diseases can cause birth defects if they happen while pregnant.
  • Chronic health problems: Certain health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, 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.
  • Weight: Being overweight or underweight can increase the risk for pregnancy complications. Talk to the doctor about ways to achieve a healthy weight before you become pregnant.  
  • Medical and family histories: The doctor will want to know about the patient and her partner’s medical and family history.
  • Genetic screening and counseling: Depending on personal or family health history, a doctor may recommend a meeting with a genetic counselor to determine any 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. Talk to the doctor about options for counseling and treatment.

The doctor will also recommend day to day changes such as diet and exercise, taking folic acid to reduce the risk of birth defects, and avoiding hot tubs and saunas and being around toxic chemicals. Quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and taking a prenatal vitamin are on the top of the list for a woman who is trying to become pregnant.

By Dr. Joseph Lamb, MD, ThedaCare Physicians-New London.