Woman talking to the doctor

Before you get pregnant, did you know that it’s a good idea to make a preconception appointment to discuss your upcoming pregnancy with your physician?

Get your ducks in a row

Learn about what to expect and what changes you can start to make now to help your pregnancy get off to a good start.

You may have heard of preconception counseling, but do you know what’s involved? In a nutshell, preconception counseling is an appointment you make with an obstetrician or a midwife generally three months before you want to try for a baby. Together, you and your care provider will help your future pregnancy get started off on the right track.

The basics

The Mommy Docs' Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth

We spoke with Dr. Alane Park, one of the authors of The Mommy Docs' Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth (Amazon, $6), who let us know that more and more women are coming to her practice for preconception counseling. “This includes women who are young and healthy with no medical conditions, to women with complicated medical conditions,” she told us. “I think both women without or with medical conditions benefit from preconception counseling.”

Your discussions will center around pregnancy health and safety of course, but also how to maximize your chances of getting pregnant. Dr. Park — who not only has years of experience in the medical field, but is also the mother of two sons herself — explains that moms can expect to learn how to time intercourse, for example, and that taking prenatal vitamins for at least two or three months prior to conception is the way to go.

What to expect

Your doctor will likely go over the following points with you at your appointment, although individual physicians and practices may vary.

Prenatal recommendations: In addition to the recommendation of daily prenatal vitamins containing at least 0.6 milligrams of folic acid, your doctor will also discuss how important a healthy diet is, and can suggest ways to cut down and eliminate bad habits like smoking and drinking, which can harm a growing baby.

Physical exam: Doctors will often perform a physical exam, including a Pap smear if you’re due for one. She may do blood tests as well, to check for immunity to certain diseases. Immunization may be recommended if you are not immune to chicken pox and rubella, both of which can damage a developing fetus.

Genetic counseling: If you or your partner are at risk for particular genetic diseases based on your demographics, your doctor can screen for that as well. “If you have family history of genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia, we can screen for it prior to conception so our patients can be counseled about their options should they be carriers or have the disorder,” explained Dr. Park.

Chronic disease: If you suffer from certain chronic diseases — such as diabetes, thyroid disease, asthma, seizure disorder, chronic hypertension, heart conditions, and even cancers — your doctor can work with you, in addition to specialists, to ensure that you have the healthiest pregnancy possible.

Older moms: Moms age 35 and up are at higher risk of having a baby with genetic issues, as well as being at risk for a more difficult pregnancy herself. “There’s higher risk of chronic medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or thyroid problems,” Dr. Park told us. “But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a baby after 35... after all, I was 35 and 39 when I birthed Matt and Max.”

It’s also a great time to bring up any questions or concerns you have, and an excellent way to get to know the care provider who you will be spending nine months — and beyond — with.

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