Pre-Pregnancy Health Care

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What do I need to know about my body before I get pregnant?

The more you know about how your body works, the better you will understand what to expect when you become pregnant and as the pregnancy progresses. If you have any health issues, the best time to identify and address them is before trying to or actually becoming pregnant.

Before you become pregnant, you'll want to know:

  • If you have any existing medical conditions that might affect your ability to conceive, have a healthy pregnancy and/or give birth to a healthy baby
  • Whether any medicine you are taking is likely to be safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • The health of your reproductive organs and breasts
  • Your fertility status
  • Your genetic history/heritage
  • Your metabolism rate
  • The condition of your heart, blood, lungs, urine and hormones
  • If you need any adult immunizations/vaccinations
  • How current lifestyle choices could affect your pregnancy or your baby
To make sure you get the most accurate assessment of your health, tell your pre-pregnancy care provider as much as you know about your health history (including reproductive health, including any sexually transmitted infections or earlier pregnancies/miscarriages), lifestyle (home, work, leisure activities and settings) and family medical history.

It's also very helpful to learn more about the body systems involved in pregnancy and how they relate to each another. You can read more about the role of hormones in childbearing in this section.

Should I have a pre-pregnancy checkup before I try to become pregnant?

A pre-pregnancy checkup is a smart idea. Your health care provider can help you lower risks associated with pregnancy or existing medical conditions that could affect/be affected by pregnancy, for example:

  • Anxiety
  • Asthma
  • Auto-immune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV or AIDS
  • Blood disorders such as hemoglobinopathy or hyperphenylalaninemia
  • Cancer
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Eating disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney disease
  • Obesity
  • Thyroid disorders
It’s certainly possible to have a successful pregnancy if you have one of these chronic conditions, but it may be considered a high risk pregnancy and you will have to take some special precautions. In many cases, it would be wise to improve how you manage these conditions before pregnancy.

If you are taking any prescription medications, over-the-counter medicines or alternative or herbal remedies, your caregiver can advise you about if and how you may need to make changes.

Even if you think you are healthy and ready to get pregnant, a pre-pregnancy checkup is a good opportunity to start asking questions. Make a list of issues before your appointment and ask your care provider for information.

Should I get vaccinated before I get pregnant?

It’s a good idea to talk to your health care provider at your preconception visit about which vaccines you need before, during and after pregnancy. He or she may recommend you receive the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and various other vaccines before you become pregnant. Other vaccines are recommended during pregnancy, like Tdap (to protect against whooping cough). It’s also important for pregnant women to get the flu vaccine. You can review a CDC chart of vaccines for before, during and after pregnancy here.

What other health issues should I be concerned about before I get pregnant?

You should definitely see a health care professional if you may:

  • Have been exposed to a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Have been exposed to certain childhood diseases (chickenpox, measles)
  • Need any immunization booster shots
STIs can be harmful to you and your fetus/newborn. The riskiest ones for women and infants are:
  • AIDS/HIV: It can be transmitted to the fetus/newborn during pregnancy, at birth and with breastfeeding.
  • Hepatitis B: Infected fetuses have a 25 percent chance of dying from a liver-related disease unless treated within days of birth.
  • Chlamydia and gonorrhea: They can lead to problems during pregnancy and with the health of both the woman and newborn.
  • Syphilis: It can cause congenital abnormalities and fetal/infant death.
  • Trichomoniasis: This vaginal inflammation can cause problems during pregnancy.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) (may lead to genital warts): It is associated with cervical cancer and can complicate birth and cause problems in childhood.
  • Herpes Simplex Viruses (HSV): If lesions are active at time of birth, it can be passed on to the infant during vaginal birth (and a maternity care provider would likely recommend a cesarean in this instance). It can also lead to brain damage, blindness, intellectual disability and infant death.
You may have one of these STIs and not have any symptoms, so it’s important you talk to your health care provider about getting tested before you get pregnant. Most STIs can be cured using drugs such as antibiotics, and there are vaccines against Hepatitis B and some strains of HPV. That being said, some STIs cannot be easily cured and can put you and your baby at risk. Both you and your partner should be screened and, if necessary and possible, treated before you try to become pregnant.

Vaccinations are also important before and even during pregnancy. Exposure to chickenpox, rubella (German measles) and the measles during pregnancy can cause birth defects. Before getting pregnant, make sure you either got the vaccine or already had the disease as a child (a blood test can check for immunity if you are not sure). If it turns out you need a vaccination, wait at least one month after having that shot before trying to get pregnant.

What type of care provider should I see for pre-pregnancy care?

The following types of care providers are well positioned to help you prepare for pregnancy: obstetrician-gynecologists, midwives, family doctors and nurse-practitioners who, in their advanced practice roles, care for childbearing women.

Why is dental care before pregnancy important?

The quality of research about dental care before and during pregnancy is limited. Despite concerns that periodontal disease increases risk for poor pregnancy outcomes (such as preterm birth and low birth weight), this has not been clearly demonstrated. Similarly, despite hope that treatment of periodontal disease would increase the likelihood of healthy birth outcomes, this has not been proven.

That being said, good oral health is an important part of overall health. Schedule a visit with your dentist before you get pregnant. Tell your dentist about your plans to become pregnant so you can schedule any special work, treatments or X-rays and improve your oral health before pregnancy. Some dentists prefer to do only emergency and routine hygiene/cleaning procedures on pregnant women and may fill cavities as well. Others view oral health as an ongoing priority and provide many dental services at this time.

Even though dental X-rays (especially those taken with newer machines) don't send out large amounts of radiation, try to avoid them if you think you might be pregnant. If X-rays are necessary, be sure your dental provider covers you with a lead apron for protection.

Why is good mental health important going into pregnancy?

Both depression and anxiety can harm your overall health, your pregnancy and the well-being of your developing fetus. They can take a big toll after the baby is born, and continue to negatively impact your well-being and that of your baby, as well as your family life and your experience at this special time.

These conditions can be treated, and it would be wise to address them before becoming pregnant. Before pregnancy, you can try many types of treatments, including various types of therapy and medications that may not be safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. If you are currently taking medications for depression or anxiety, speak with your maternity care and mental health care providers before pregnancy about the risks and benefits of taking your medications throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.