Your checkup before pregnancy
Are you hoping to get pregnant soon? Planning for a baby is a special time!
A preconception checkup is a medical checkup you get before pregnancy. It helps make sure you’re healthy when you get pregnant. Getting a preconception checkup is one of the best things you can do to help you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
A preconception checkup helps your health care provider make sure that your body is ready for pregnancy. If you can, meet with the health care provider you want to take care of you when you do get pregnant. You can get a preconception checkup any time—even up to a year before you want to get pregnant.
Some medical conditions and lifestyle choices can affect pregnancy. They also can affect your chances of getting pregnant. Your provider can help you get these things under control to avoid health problems in you and your baby during pregnancy.
If you use birth control, you and your provider can talk about when to stop using it before trying to get pregnant. Your provider may suggest you stop using birth control a few months before you start trying to get pregnant. This lets your body go through a few normal menstrual cycles before you get pregnant. Having some normal cycles before pregnancy can help your provider figure out your due date when you do get pregnant.
During a preconception checkup, your provider:
- Checks your health and screens for any new health problems
- Talks with you about your family health history and your lifestyle
- Answers any questions you have about getting pregnant
Your provider may:
- Give you a physical exam that includes taking your weight and checking your blood pressure
- Give you a pelvic exam. This is an exam of the pelvic organs to make sure they are healthy. If you have any problems in these organs, getting treatment before pregnancy may help you avoid problems during pregnancy. Treatment also can help if you have fertility problems (problems getting pregnant).
- Do a Pap test. This is a medical test in which your provider collects cells from your cervix, the opening to your uterus that sits at the top of the vagina. The cells are checked for cancer.
- Run blood tests to check for things like your blood type and Rh factor. Rh factor is a protein found on red blood cells.
- Screen for obesity, diabetes or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), like genital herpes and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Yes. Your health may have changed since you were last pregnant. And if you had a problem in a past pregnancy, your provider may be able to help you avoid the same problem in your next pregnancy.
A preconception checkup is really important if you’ve had any of these problems in a past pregnancy:
- Miscarriage, when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy
- Stillbirth, when a baby dies in the womb before birth, but after 20 weeks of pregnancy
- Premature birth, birth that happens too early, before 37 weeks of pregnancy
- Baby with a birth defect, a problem with the baby’s body that is present at birth
Family health history is a record of any health problems and treatments that you, your partner and everyone in both of your families has had.
Your family health history can help you and your provider look out for health problems that may run in your family. For example, if your family healthy history shows that you have a high risk of having a baby with a genetic disorder or birth defect, you may want to meet with a genetic counselor. A genetic counselor is a person who is trained to know about genetics, birth defects and other medical problems that run in families.
It’s a good idea to start putting your family history together before your preconception checkup so you can share it with your provider at your checkup. You and your partner can use a family health history form (.PDF, 424KB) to gather information.
Your family health history can help your provider:
- Find the cause of a problem you had in a past pregnancy. Your provider may use tests like blood tests or ultrasound to help find the cause of the problem. Getting treatment often can lower the chances of you having the same problem in another pregnancy.
- Treat health conditions before pregnancy. Some chronic (long-lasting) health conditions can lead to pregnancy problems and, sometimes, birth defects. Getting treatment before pregnancy for conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, lupus and PKU, can improve your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby.
- Make sure any prescription and over-the-counter medicines you take are safe during pregnancy. A prescription medicine is a medicine you can buy only if you have an order for that medicine written by a health care provider. Over-the-counter medicines are medicines you can buy without a prescription, like pain relievers or cough syrup. Some medicines may be harmful to a growing baby. You may need to stop taking a medicine or switch to another medicine during pregnancy. Don’t stop taking any prescription medicine without your provider’s OK. Stopping some medicines, like medicines for asthma, depression or diabetes, can be more harmful to you or your baby than taking the medicine. Tell your provider about any medicine you take.
- Check that your vaccinations are up to date. Infections like chickenpox and rubella (German measles)can harm you and your baby during pregnancy. It’s best to get caught up on vaccinations before you get pregnant. Wait at least 1 month after getting any vaccination before trying to get pregnant.
It’s a great idea to keep up your regular dental checkups before and during pregnancy. Some studies show a link between gum disease and having a premature or low-birthweight baby. If you have gum disease, getting treatment before pregnancy may prevent health problems in you and your baby.
At your next regular dentist appointment, tell your dentist you’re planning to get pregnant
Your preconception checkup is a great time to ask your provider any questions you have about getting pregnant. You may want to know:
For more information
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
CDC Show Your Love Campaign
Last reviewed September 2012
See also: Are you ready financially?, Getting healthy before pregnancy, Planning your pregnancy
Frequently Asked Questions
Can dad's exposure to chemicals harm his future kids?
Dad's exposure to harmful chemicals and substances before conception or during his partner's pregnancy can affect his children. Harmful exposures can include drugs (prescription, over-the-counter and illegal drugs), alcohol, cigarettes, cigarette smoke, chemotherapy and radiation. They also include exposure to lead, mercury and pesticides.
Unlike mom's exposures, dad's exposures do not appear to cause birth defects. They can, however, damage a man's sperm quality, causing fertility problems and miscarriage. Some exposures may cause genetic changes in sperm that may increase the risk of childhood cancer. Cancer treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation, can seriously alter sperm, at least for a few months post treatment. Some men choose to bank their sperm to preserve its integrity before they receive treatment. If you have a question about a specific exposure, contact the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists at www.mothertobaby.org/.
I've been diagnosed with PCOS. Can I get pregnant?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a medical condition that can affect a woman's menstrual cycle, hormones, heart, blood vessels, appearance (especially excessive hair growth) and the ability to have children. Although women do make small levels of androgens, also called male hormones, women with PCOS typically have high levels of androgens. This creates a hormonal disorder that affects ovulation and fertility. PCOS can cause many infertility cases. However, with the right treatment, many women have been able to get pregnant.
Women with PCOS often have trouble keeping a healthy weight. Having a healthy weight and increasing physical activity will help maintain ovulation and fertility. It'll also help prevent other complications like diabetes and heart disease. Your health care provider might consider the following treatments to help you get pregnant.
- Medications to help improve insulin resistance and ovulation
- Medication to induce ovulation
My menstrual period is irregular. Can I get pregnant?
Every woman's menstrual cycle is different. Some women have their cycle like clockwork. Others have trouble knowing when it's going to happen. If you have only slight variations from month to month, but you have your menstrual period at least once every 25 to 35 days, this could be normal. However, if your cycle is absent for more than 2 months, you bleed too little or too much and you can't predict when it's going to happen, talk to your health provider. Having an irregular menstrual cycle may mean that ovulation isn't happening or it's happening only a few times a year. This will affect your ability to get pregnant. Your health provider will probably check your thyroid, pituitary and adrenal glands. After a checkup your health provider will discuss your treatment options.