Preconception checkups: why they’re important

January 25, 2022

Are you planning a pregnancy or thinking of getting pregnant sometime in the future? If so, it’s never too early to get ready for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby! That means focusing on your preconception health, which is your health before you get pregnant.

Good preconception health includes getting a preconception checkup. This is a medical checkup you get before pregnancy to help make sure you’re healthy when you get pregnant. Preconception checkups can treat and sometimes prevent health problems that may affect your pregnancy and your baby. Making sure you’re healthy before pregnancy can even improve your chances of getting pregnant.

It’s a good idea to get your preconception checkup with the same provider you want to take care of you when you get pregnant.

What happens at a preconception checkup?

At your preconception checkup, your provider checks your overall health to make sure your body is ready for pregnancy. Your provider does a physical exam, including checking your blood pressure. Your provider may also do blood tests and a pelvic exam. A pelvic exam is an exam of the pelvic organs to make sure they’re healthy. During a pelvic exam, your provider may do a Pap test. This is a medical test in which your provider collects cells from your cervix to check for cancer. 

You and your provider can talk about:

Health conditions that can affect your pregnancy. Some health conditions, like preexisting diabetes or high blood pressure, can increase your baby’s risk of having a birth defect or other problems. Certain infections also can harm your baby. If you have a health problem, your provider can help you manage it before you get pregnant.

Any problems you had in a past pregnancy. Let your provider know if you had a health condition like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia in a past pregnancy, or a problem like premature birth. Your provider may be able to help you avoid the same problem in your next pregnancy.

Medicines you take. Tell your provider about any prescription medicines, over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, supplements and herbal products you take. Your provider can make sure they’re safe for your baby or recommend other options. But don’t start or stop taking any medicine without talking to your provider first.

Your family health history. Your provider asks about your family health history to see if any health conditions run in your family or your partner’s family. Use the March of Dimes Family Health History Form to gather information. If certain health conditions run in your family, your provider may recommend that you see a genetic counselor.

Your vaccinations. Ask your provider if you need any vaccinations. It’s best to get caught up on certain vaccinations before you get pregnant. And talk to your provider if you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine gives the body’s cells instructions that help the immune system fight COVID-19. This is especially important for pregnant people, who are at higher risk for severe illness with COVID-19 and may be at higher risk for pregnancy problems. Pregnant people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 also produce antibodies that could protect their babies from COVID-19.

Taking folic acid. Taking a daily multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid before pregnancy and during early pregnancy can help prevent certain birth defects. These birth defects can happen early in pregnancy, so it’s important to have enough folic acid in your body before you get pregnant. Some people need a higher amount of folic acid. Talk to your provider about how much you need.

Getting to a healthy weight. You’re more likely to have a healthy pregnancy if you start out at a healthy weight. Talk to your provider about the right weight for you.

Your lifestyle. This includes:

  • Eating healthy and exercising. Eating healthy foods and being active each day can help you have a healthy pregnancy.
  • Managing stress. Your provider can recommend ways to decrease stress and anxiety before you get pregnant.
  • Avoiding harmful substances. Substances like alcohol, drugs and tobacco can harm your baby. Your provider can help you quit if you need help.
  • Avoiding harmful chemicals. Talk to your provider about protecting yourself from any unsafe chemicals at home or at work.

When to stop using birth control. Your provider may recommend stopping certain types of birth control a few months before you start trying to get pregnant.

When should you get a preconception checkup?

You can get a preconception checkup anytime – even up to a year before you want to get pregnant. But it’s best to start focusing on your preconception health at least 3 months before you start trying to get pregnant.

Do you need a preconception checkup if you’ve already had a baby?

Get a preconception checkup each time you’re planning a pregnancy, even if you’ve already had a baby. Your health may have changed since you were last pregnant.

Learn more about preconception checkups.