5 Most Important Pre-conception Health Checks

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Published: October 28, 2014


The essence of preconception care is this: Treat your body as though you are already pregnant.

Conception takes place about 2 weeks before a menstrual period, when you ovulate (release an egg from the ovaries). You may not know that you’re pregnant until 3 weeks after conception, or later in the pregnancy. The baby is most sensitive to harm from 2-8 weeks, when the organs are being formed, (e.g. heart, lungs, and kidneys). Anything you eat, drink, smoke or are exposed to can have ill effects on your baby.

Ideally, any woman should take care of her body regularly, especially with well-woman care, such as pelvic and breast exams. One reason is that about half of pregnancies are unplanned, which has greater risks of preterm birth, and low-weight babies. By taking action on health issues and risks, you can prevent problems that could affect you or your baby for a lifetime.

Both women and men should prepare for pregnancy before becoming sexually active (remember: 50 % of pregnancies are unplanned) or at least 3 months before getting pregnant. Some health issues will take longer than three months to improve or stabilize, such as reaching a healthy weight, adjusting medications, quitting smoking, alcohol and illicit drug use.

The 5 most important things to do for preconception health

1. Take 400-800 micrograms (400-800 mcg or 0.4-0.8 mg) of folic acid (also called folate) every day. Many physicians advise ALL women of childbearing age, even women who have no intention of becoming pregnant, to take folate because it lowers the risk of brain and spinal cord defects. The protective effects occur at the time of conception and the first few weeks of pregnancy. An unplanned pregnancy may not be apparent until after the folate’s protective effects have passed. Some doctors prescribe prenatal vitamins with greater amounts of folic acid.

Pre-conception Health Checks - folic-acid

2. Stop smoking, using alcohol, marijuana and other harmful substances.

3. If you have a medical condition, work with your doctor to resolve it or get it under control. Some conditions that can affect pregnancy are asthma, diabetes, oral health, obesity, epilepsy, and many others.

4. Talk to your doctor about any medications you are using, including dietary or herbal supplements. Get your vaccinations up to date.

5. Avoid contact with toxic substances that could cause infection, be absorbed through the skin, or inhaled. Stay away from chemicals and cat or rodent feces.

Preconception care should begin at least 3 months before you try to conceive. Your partner’s health should be discussed, as well.

It’s best to be at a healthy weight when you become pregnant. Being overweight or underweight puts you at increased risk for problems during pregnancy.

Discuss these things at your preconception visit:

1. Family planning and birth control.

2. Taking folic acid.

3. Vaccines and screenings you may need, such as a Pap test and screenings for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

4. Managing health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, obesity, depression, eating disorders, and asthma. Find out how pregnancy may affect, or be affected by, health problems you have.

5. Medicines you use, including herbal, physician-recommended drugs and supplements.

6. Ways to improve your overall health, such as reaching a healthy weight, making better food choices, being physically active, caring for your teeth and gums, reducing stress, quitting smoking, and avoiding alcohol and illicit drugs.

7. How to avoid illness.

8. Health problems that run in your or your partner’s families.

9. Problems you have had with prior pregnancies, including preterm birth(s).

10. Family concerns that could affect your health, such as domestic violence, alcoholism, or illicit and recreational drugs

Your partner’s role in preparing for pregnancy

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Your partner’s support and encouragement are important. When partners plan together, a woman is more likely to get early prenatal care and avoid risky behaviors such as smoking and drinking alcohol. Screening for and treating STIs can help prevent infection and complications.

Male partners can improve their own reproductive and overall health by limiting alcohol, quitting smoking or illegal drug use. Unhealthy habits can cause unhealthy sperm, with problems getting pregnant. Ask your partner not to smoke around you, to avoid harmful effects of second-hand smoke.

People who work with chemicals or other toxins, fertilizers or pesticides should change dirty clothing before coming near women. The exposed clothing should be handled separately.

Genetic counseling and other important topics will be addressed in additional articles.

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About Faith A. Coleman, MD

Dr. Coleman is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, and holds a BA in journalism from UNM. She completed her family practice residency at Wm. Beaumont Hospital, Troy and Royal Oak, MI, consistently ranked among the United States Top 100 Hospitals by US News and World Report. Her experience includes faculty appointments to a family practice residency and three medical schools, as well as Director of Women's and Children's Health Promotion Programs with the NE Texas Public Health District.

Dr. Coleman is the Expert on Gifted Children for the New York Times, parenting writer for Demand Media Studios, as well as health and medical writer for several online information services. She writes professional management material for health care providers and about the personal experience of being a physician. Faith treasures most the role of mother. Her passions include the well-being and education of children and families. She doesn't tweet, but welcomes email: facoleman8889@yahoo.com.

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