Preconception health checklists for when you’re trying to conceive
A healthy lifestyle is especially important when you’re trying to conceive. That includes eating right, exercising and getting routine medical care.
If you know you want to start building a family, the best thing you can do is to take care of your health beginning now. A preconception checkup with your doctor can help you follow healthy habits and take the right steps to give your baby the best start. You can also turn to helpful preconception health checklists from reputable medical organizations, such as the March of Dimes1, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention2 and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists3.
We’ve compiled a list from these and other trusted sources below.
1. What can I learn from a preconception checkup?
You should already be getting a checkup with your doctor once a year. If you’re thinking about starting to build a family, ask about preconception care. Your doctor will discuss how to prepare your body for pregnancy, including a healthy diet, the proper intake of folic acid (see below, under vitamins), how to get to or maintain a healthy weight and when to stop birth control. Other topics that your doctor may cover include medical conditions you have that can affect your pregnancy, your and your partner’s family medical history, and any risk of passing genetically inherited illnesses that can have a significant impact on your baby’s health. He/she may recommend that you see a genetic counselor or recommend running standard preconceptional tests such as a pelvic exam, a Pap test and a blood test to check your blood type and Rh factor.
2. Who should get a preconception checkup?
All men and women who are considering having a baby can benefit from a preconception checkup, but there are individuals and couples who would especially benefit from a doctor’s help. Those who have already experienced premature birth, miscarriage, birth defects or stillbirth should see a doctor before trying another pregnancy to minimize risk1. Another reason you might seek a doctor is if you and your partner know of medical conditions that may affect your pregnancy, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or depression1. If you’re having trouble quitting smoking or drugs, a doctor may also be able to help you get healthy before conceiving2.
3. Who do I go to for a preconception check up?
It is recommended that you get a checkup from the same doctor who will take care of you during your pregnancy1. Doctors who can help you from preconception to birth include obstetricians (OB), a family practice doctor, a nurse practitioner and a certified midwife1. However, if you know or suspect you may have risk factors for infertility, you should see a fertility specialist (called a Reproductive Endocrinologist) who can also give you a preconception check up.
4. What’s a healthy diet during pregnancy?
Eat a balanced diet5 to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need to keep you and your baby healthy through pregnancy. Your diet should include 400 micrograms of Folic Acid, one of the B vitamins that prevents a wide range of birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, called neural tube defects4. If you’re not getting enough in your diet, try a supplement, or a prenatal vitamin that includes 400 mcg of Folic Acid. Also, be sure you’re eating enough foods with iron — such as spinach, broccoli, kale and beef6 — which is used to make the blood needed to supply oxygen to you and your baby3.
5. What kind of lifestyle changes should I be making?
Smoking, street drugs, prescription drug abuse and excessive drinking of alcohol can cause serious birth defects. The fetus is most vulnerable to these substances during the first trimester of the pregnancy3. Quitting these substances before becoming pregnant can reduce or eliminate the early harmful effects they can have on your baby3.
Also, notice what kind of toxins you and your partner may be exposed to at work or home that can be harmful for your reproductive systems, including radiation, lead, pesticides, fertilizer and other synthetic chemicals7. These toxins may be inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin. Be aware so you can protect yourself.
Ask your pharmacist about any hidden retinoic acid in your acne medications and cosmetics, because it can also be harmful. While the amount of the drug absorbed through the skin is likely low, it has been known to cause birth defects8.
6. How does my weight affect pregnancy?
Being either over- or underweight can be harmful for your pregnancy. Pregnant women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk for preterm birth, gestational diabetes and birth defects like neural tube disease, among other health conditions3. Pregnant women who are underweight have increased risk of preterm birth and a baby with “low birth weight”. Low birth weight babies are at increased risk of having health and behavior problems that may last until adulthood3. If you’re considering in vitro fertilization (IVF), your weight, or body mass index (BMI), can have a big impact on your IVF success rate. Talk to your doctor about how you can get to and maintain a healthy weight.
7. Why is it important to know my family’s medical history?
There are a number of health conditions that can be inherited by a baby through genetics or are more common within certain ethnic groups3. If a family member on your or your partner’s side has had one of these medical conditions, that might mean your baby has a greater risk of having it. Examples of some genetic diseases include cystic fibrosis, Thalassemias and Fragile X syndrome1. Your doctor may recommend that you seek a genetic counselor to further understand the risk or have yourself and your partner undergo preconceptional genetic carrier screening. If genetic counseling and/or genetic carrier screening indicates that your baby has risks of inheriting a serious genetic condition, you may want to consider doing IVF in conjunction with preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which can test embryos to identify which ones have genetic problems that can interfere with a full-term pregnancy and healthy baby.
A healthy mind and healthy body before and during pregnancy will give your baby the best chance at a healthy start. Ask your doctor if you have further questions.
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