Preconception is the time before conception (the beginning of pregnancy). Couples may consider preconception care to help ensure a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

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From a medical standpoint, couples can do many things to plan and prepare before trying for a baby, including during the preconception period.

Preconception refers to the time before you become pregnant. Preconception care is medical care that couples receive before pregnancy to assess risks and potentially improve fetal and maternal health.

Here’s more about preconception care, why you might seek it, and what steps you can take to prepare your body for pregnancy.

Preconception is the period of time before pregnancy occurs. Experts share that up to half of the 200 million pregnancies that happen each year are unplanned.

A person’s health before pregnancy may have a significant effect on pregnancy outcomes. Preconception care is medical counseling a person receives before pregnancy to:

  • identify risks like potential genetic disorders
  • improve and optimize general health
  • reduce morbidity (medical conditions) and mortality (death) for both the birthing parent and baby

Taking prenatal vitamins is one good step before trying to get pregnant. Healthcare professionals also recommend many more actions to help prepare your body for pregnancy.

In fact, experts suggest that prenatal care that begins at least 3 months before pregnancy is the most effective.

The most important steps include:

  • quitting smoking, drugs, and alcohol, if any of these apply to you
  • reaching or maintaining a healthy weight or body mass index (BMI) for you
  • discussing your current medications (prescription and over-the-counter), vitamins, and supplements with your doctor
  • updating your vaccinations, if needed
  • taking 400–800 micrograms of folic acid each day to reduce the risk of neural tube defects
  • managing existing health conditions like asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, or oral health conditions
  • avoiding contact with hazardous substances (like chemicals or animal feces), whether at work or at home

You may see your primary care physician, nurse practitioner, midwife (or other birthing professional), or obstetrician for a preconception appointment.

When you arrive, you will fill out paperwork concerning your current health as well as your personal and family health history. This information will help your doctor spot any areas that need special attention during your visit.

You may discuss previous pregnancies and any health conditions you or your baby experienced. You may also discuss any medications you are currently taking and update any vaccinations you may need.

Your preconception appointment will involve a physical examination and likely a pelvic exam to evaluate your overall health. Your healthcare professional may also discuss your mental health and offer resources for domestic violence or substance misuse if needed.

Depending on the results of your appointment, your doctor may suggest treatment for certain conditions, changes in medications, or other follow-up care. Your doctor may also order certain tests for more detailed information.

Tests may include:

If you are having trouble getting pregnant, your doctor may also recommend:

Your genes are passed to your baby at conception. Genetic mutations may occur as single gene disorders (like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia) or chromosome disorders (like trisomy 18 or Down syndrome).

Not all couples choose to have genetic counseling as part of their preconception process. Instead, it is a tool to help couples who may have concerns or a higher risk of passing on genetic conditions.

Reasons you may seek genetic counseling include:

  • having a family history of certain genetic conditions (birth defects, cancer, inherited disorders)
  • having had two or more miscarriages or a stillbirth or infant death
  • having had a previous child with a genetic condition
  • being over 35 years old
  • receiving other testing that suggests potential genetic disorders
  • being of a certain ethnic background that increases the risk of genetic disorders (for example, the Ashkenazi Jewish genetic panel)

During the genetic counseling appointment, your doctor will discuss the risks and genetic testing. If a couple opts for genetic testing, a simple blood or saliva test can gather the necessary information to further discuss with the doctor to understand risk and diagnose or rule out different genetic conditions.

Your partner can also take steps to prepare for a healthy pregnancy. First and foremost, it’s important that your partner be involved in the pregnancy planning process.

Other steps include:

  • avoiding smoking, drug use, and alcohol use
  • eating a nutritious, balanced diet
  • reducing stress
  • getting screened for STIs
  • making an appointment to discuss current medication use, as well as personal and family health history
  • avoiding contact with hazardous substances (like chemicals or toxins) or taking steps to prevent contamination at home if they work with these materials
  • getting fertility testing as needed

Genetic counseling may be another important part of the process if your partner’s doctor identifies potential genetic diseases. Your partner’s doctor may suggest genetic testing, which involves a saliva or blood sample, to more specifically identify the risk for certain inherited conditions.

What is preconception in pregnancy?

Preconception is not a stage of pregnancy. It’s the period of time before the sperm meets the egg. The term is used more in planning and care before pregnancy.

What is the oldest age you can get pregnant naturally?

Around 1 in 4 females may get pregnant naturally in any given cycle in their 20s and 30s, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. By age 40, this rate drops to 1 in 10 each cycle. Pregnancy can happen anytime before a female reaches menopause. On average, menopause happens around 51 years old.

Is preconception genetic testing covered by insurance?

Maybe. It depends on your insurance and specific coverage. It’s a good idea to call your insurance provider before your preconception visit to find out what’s covered in your plan.

The steps you take before pregnancy may protect against harmful outcomes for both the birthing parent and baby. Whether you are looking to conceive your first child or your fourth, preconception care is key. Your health can change between pregnancies, so make an appointment with your doctor if you are looking to become pregnant in the near future.