Planning a pregnancy is exciting and one of the biggest decisions you can make, so it’s essential that you’re well-prepared for it. You’ll have plenty of checkups during and after your pregnancy. But ideally, prenatal care should begin before you even start trying to become pregnant.
A preconception doctor’s appointment is the first step toward a healthy pregnancy. Keep reading to learn why this visit is important and who can benefit from preconception care.
What Is a Preconception Doctor’s Appointment?
Before conceiving, you have a preconception doctor’s appointment with your obstetrician, gynecologist, or regular doctor. It’s an opportunity to get checked out and make sure your body is healthy and ready to support a pregnancy. This appointment is also an excellent opportunity for you and your partner to ask any questions about conception or pregnancy.
The appointment allows your doctor to identify any problems that might affect your chances of conceiving, your health, or your baby’s health. They may counsel you on lifestyle changes you can make, tests to take, or medicines you need before trying to get pregnant. Being proactive about your health early can reduce your risk of complications during your pregnancy.
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Who Should Have a Preconception Appointment?
Women’s health doctors recommend a preconception checkup for all people planning a pregnancy. You should also have one if you’re of childbearing age and sexually active — because many pregnancies happen unexpectedly. This appointment is especially important if:
- You’ve already had a baby but are thinking about another one. Your health may have changed since your previous pregnancy.
- You have a chronic disease, like diabetes or heart disease. These may increase your risk of pregnancy complications if they’re unmanaged.
- Certain genetic conditions, like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease, run in your family. You may want to see a genetic specialist before getting pregnant.
- You had complications in a previous pregnancy, like preeclampsia (high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy).
- You had a miscarriage, a stillborn baby, or a premature baby in a previous pregnancy.
- You’re taking medications for chronic medical conditions. It is
important to discuss which medications are safe during pregnancy.
If you’re contemplating pregnancy, you should aim to have a preconception doctor’s appointment at least three months before conceiving. Many couples like to attend this appointment together because, after all, you’re in this together. But it’s also a good idea for your partner to talk to their doctor about health and lifestyle habits that can affect conception.
What Happens at a Preconception Checkup?
A preconception checkup is similar to an annual physical exam. Your doctor will examine you and ask about health conditions and lifestyle factors that may impact your pregnancy or baby’s health.
They’ll also ask about your and your partner’s family histories to screen for health conditions you can pass on to your baby. It can also help determine if you should have genetic counseling before getting pregnant.
During your exam, your doctor will:
- Measure your height and weight to make sure your body mass index is in a healthy range. Being under or overweight may affect your ability to conceive. Being overweight or obese also increases your risk of gestational diabetes.
- Check your blood pressure to ensure you don’t have hypertension, which can complicate pregnancy.
- Examine your breasts and do a pelvic exam to ensure your vagina, cervix, uterus, and ovaries are healthy. During your pelvic exam, your doctor will also do a pap test to screen for cervical cancer.
Your doctor will also ask about your menstrual periods, how often you get one, and how long they last. Based on your information, they’ll advise you on the best times to have sex to boost your chances of conceiving. They’ll also tell you when to stop using birth control and whether you need to wait before trying to get pregnant.
Another important part of the preconception doctor’s appointment is a conversation about healthy diet and lifestyle habits. Your doctor may recommend starting a prenatal vitamin to boost your iron and folic acid levels before your get pregnant. If you follow a special diet, including if you are vegetarian or vegan, you may need to take some additional supplements like B vitamins or iron. If you smoke or drink alcohol, they’ll talk to you about stopping now because these are dangerous for you and your baby.
Preconception care bloodwork
Your doctor will most likely order bloodwork as part of your preconception checkup. If you have to go to a lab to have your blood drawn, it’s vital that you don’t skip this.
Your blood test will identify your blood type and Rh factor. That’s a protein you may or may not have on your red blood cells.
If you don’t have the protein (Rh negative) but your partner does, your baby can inherit the Rh protein from them. If you’re negative and your baby is positive, you can have a problem if the baby’s blood mixes with your blood.
In this case, your body can make antibodies against the baby’s blood. And those antibodies can cross the placenta — and then attack and destroy your baby’s blood cells in future pregnancies.
It’s helpful to know your blood type and Rh factor before pregnancy. But your doctor will also check it at your first prenatal checkup if they can’t confirm it. If they discover you and your baby have different Rh factors, they can give you an injection to protect your baby.
Your preconception blood test will also screen for:
- Antibodies against rubella (German measles), chicken pox, and hepatitis B and C.
- Sexually transmitted diseases.
Depending on your bloodwork results, your doctor might recommend vaccines or other treatments to protect you and your baby.
Questions to Ask Before Trying to Become Pregnant
A lot happens during a preconception appointment, so it’s helpful to bring a list of questions to your appointment. Many people want to know:
- How long does it take, on average, to conceive, and how often should you be having sex?
- What forms of exercise are safe and recommended before and after getting pregnant?
- Is it safe to take supplements or use herbal treatments before and after conception?Is it okay to travel and are there any precautions to take?
- Are there certain foods to eat or avoid?
If you need help or support from other clinicians, make sure you ask your doctor for a referral. You might find it helpful to work with:
- A health coach if you want to quit smoking or increase your exercise.
- A dietitian if you have an eating disorder or want to learn how to plan a healthier diet.
- A behavioral health specialist if you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.
For many people, a potential pregnancy is the best motivation to get and stay healthy. Having a preconception doctor’s appointment is an ideal place to start.
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About UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital
For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. UPMC Magee is long-renowned for its services to women and babies but also offers a wide range of care to men as well. Our patient-first approach ensures you and your loved ones get the care you need. Nearly 10,000 babies are born each year at Magee, and our NICU is one of the largest in the country. Our network of care – from imaging centers to hospital services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, giving you a chance to get the expert care you need close to home. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes UPMC Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and the Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology.