What Is Preconception Care?

Clara Kedrek

Preconception care is an aspect of medicine that ensures a woman is in optimal health before becoming pregnant. Although this type of care can be beneficial for healthy women and those with chronic medical conditions alike, relatively few women take advantage of it. For women who have a family history of genetic disease, suffer from certain medical conditions, or use prescription drugs it is of particular importance to obtain counseling before becoming pregnant in order to ensure the health of their babies.

Preconception care ensures that a woman is in good health before becoming pregnant.
Preconception care ensures that a woman is in good health before becoming pregnant.

Healthy women can benefit from preconception care for a number of reasons. They can receive counseling about what to expect during a pregnancy. Doctors might advise these women to begin taking folate in preparation for becoming pregnant, because it is critical that women have high levels of this vitamin in their blood during the early stages of pregnancy in order to prevent their babies from developing spinal cord defects. Many times doctors suggest that women take general measures to ensure good health, such as maintaining a normal weight, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, stopping smoking, and using alcohol in moderation.

Part of preconception care may include receiving counseling about what expecting parents should prepare for when having a baby.
Part of preconception care may include receiving counseling about what expecting parents should prepare for when having a baby.

Some groups of women are at an increased risk for having babies with genetic diseases, and could benefit from preconception genetic screening. For example, people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are at risk for Tay-Sachs disease, and couples within this group are regularly tested to see if they are carriers for this disease before attempting to conceive. Many African Americans are carriers for sickle cell disease, and screening the prospective parents might be warranted in this population, especially if there is a history of family members having this disease. Caucasian couples who have family members with cystic fibrosis can also be tested to see whether their children might be at risk for this condition.

Women who have bipolar disorder may take lithium or other medications that can cause birth defects.
Women who have bipolar disorder may take lithium or other medications that can cause birth defects.

Certain known medical problems need to be addressed as part of proper preconception care in order to ensure that women with these conditions have healthy pregnancies. Women who suffer from diabetes mellitus should make sure that their blood glucose levels are well controlled before becoming pregnant. Certain autoimmune disorders such as lupus should also be managed before becoming pregnant, as sometimes these disorders can worsen after conception. Women with phenylketonuria, a rare metabolic disease that interferes with the ability to break down certain proteins, should go on a special diet before getting pregnant in order to prevent complications in their developing babies.

A woman taking blood pressure medication may have to stop when she gets pregnant.
A woman taking blood pressure medication may have to stop when she gets pregnant.

As part of preconception care, women can also be advised on which medications they can continue to take. Certain pharmaceutical agents are known teratogens, meaning that they can cause an increased risk of birth defects. For example, the blood thinner warfarin should be stopped before becoming pregnant, if at all possible. Women with bipolar disorder could be taking medications such as valproic acid or lithium that are also known to cause birth defects. Certain blood pressure medications should also be stopped.

Preconception screenings can be important for African American women, some of whom are carriers for sickle cell disease.
Preconception screenings can be important for African American women, some of whom are carriers for sickle cell disease.
A doctor can advise certain vitamins or supplements that a woman will need early in a pregnancy, so she can start taking them prior to conception.
A doctor can advise certain vitamins or supplements that a woman will need early in a pregnancy, so she can start taking them prior to conception.
A woman should stop smoking if she's planning to get pregnant.
A woman should stop smoking if she's planning to get pregnant.

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Discussion Comments

fify

@SarahGen-- I'm not a doctor but I think that everyone needs to be getting this care before getting pregnant, including men. Although fertility treatments are a whole separate thing, almost all men and women have some issues that reduce their likelihood of conceiving. For example, drinking, smoking and sedentary lifestyle both reduce men's and women's chances of reducing. So it's necessary for all potential moms and dads to make some lifestyle changes if they want a baby.

If the preconception care doesn't help a couple conceive, then fertility care can be received to improve chances. There are so many treatments for fertility nowadays, there are natural supplements, hormonal therapy and so on and so forth. But preconception care ought to be the first step.

SarahGen

Should people who have trouble conceiving receive preconception care? Will it also help with fertility issues?

burcinc

I have type two diabetes. I've always known that pregnancy has risks for me. Although I've been good about taking my medication and exercising regularly, I wasn't too good about my diet. So when my husband and I decided to have a baby, I started receiving preconception care. My doctor gave me a proper diet that I followed exactly. So my blood sugar levels which were normal already, became even more optimum.

I also learned in detail about how I need to eat and what I need to do to avoid complications and side effects for my baby during pregnancy. I'm very happy that I received this care. I had a very healthy pregnancy and a very healthy baby boy as a result. I highly recommend women with risk factors like diabetes and high blood pressure to start preconception care as soon as they decide that they want to conceive.

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