Why is the preconception health checkup so important?

KEY POINTS

  • Get a preconception checkup to make sure your body’s ready for pregnancy.

  • Eat healthy foods, take a vitamin supplement like a prenatal vitamin and do something active every day.

  • Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or abuse street or prescription drugs. All of these can harm your baby when you do get pregnant.

What is preconception health?

Preconception health is your health before pregnancy. Being healthy before pregnancy can help improve your chances of getting pregnant and prevent pregnancy complications. Good preconception health includes getting a preconception checkup.  If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, start focusing on your health at least 3 months before you start trying to get pregnant.

What is a preconception checkup?

A preconception checkup helps your provider treat and sometimes prevent health conditions that may affect your pregnancy. Get one even if you’ve already had a baby. Your health may have changed since you were last pregnant.

What is your family health history and why is it important before you get pregnant?

Your family health history can help your provider:

  • Identify health conditions that run in your or your partner’s family or ethnic group.
  • Find the cause of a condition you had in a past pregnancy with tests like blood tests or ultrasound. Getting treatment may lower the chances of having the same complication in another pregnancy.  
  • Treat health conditions before pregnancy like diabetes, lupus, high blood pressure and PKU, can improve your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Use the March of Dimes Family Health History Form to put your family history together to share with your provider at your checkup.

Does your weight before you get pregnant affect your pregnancy?

Yes. You’re more likely to have health problems during pregnancy if you’re overweight or underweight including:

  • Premature birth.
  • Birth defects.
  • Diabetes.
  • High blood pressure (also called hypertension).

Talk to your provider about the right weight for you. She may talk to you about your body mass index (also called BMI). To find out your BMI, go to cdc.gov/bmi. Your BMI before pregnancy helps your provider figure out the right amount of weight for you to gain during pregnancy.

What can you do before you get pregnant to help you have a healthy pregnancy?

Here’s what you can do:

  • Take a vitamin supplement with 400 mcg of folic acid every day. If you’re at high risk for having a baby with an NTD, talk to your provider about taking more folic acid.
  • Get to a healthy weight. Eat healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole-grain bread and pasta, and lean meat and chicken. Limit sweets, salty snacks and foods with a lot of fat.
  • Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or take street drugs. These can make it harder for you to get pregnant and they’re harmful to your baby. Tell your provider if you need help to quit.
  • Take prescription drugs exactly as your provider says to.  Don’t take more than your provider says you can take, don’t take it with alcohol or other drugs and don’t take anyone else’s prescription medicine. Make sure any provider knows you’re trying to get pregnant.
  • Protect yourself from viruses and infections that may affect pregnancy. These include toxoplasmosis and lymphocytic choriomeningitis (also called LCMV).  Ask someone to care for your pets if you have pet rodents and to clean the litter box for you. And make sure any meat you eat is fully cooked.
  • Don’t use harmful chemicals at home or work. Ask your provider if chemicals you use can affect your chances of getting pregnant or your baby’s health.  If you work with chemicals, talk to your boss about changing job duties before and during pregnancy.
  • Reduce your stress. Find ways to manage stress before you get pregnant. Your provider can help you find a counselor to help you reduce and handle your stress. Get help if you’ve been abused by your partner. Abuse often gets worse during pregnancy.

How much physical activity do you need each day?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (also called CDC) recommends that adults get 2½ hours a week of moderate-intensity activity, like fast walking, and strength-training 2 days a week depending on the intensity of your workouts.

If you’re already physically active, keep it up! If you’re starting or re-starting exercise, take it slowly. Talk to your provider before you start any physical activity if you have a history or risk of health concerns like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, recent surgeries or issues with your eyes such as laser treatment or retina problems.

Physical activity can help reduce your risk of having certain health conditions that can cause problems for you and your baby during pregnancy.  It also can help you manage stress, sleep better and quit smoking.