By Anai Rhoads
The following checks or tests may be made by your doctor before making the decision of pregnancy, in order to ensure you will have as trouble-free a term as possible and good health for the growing baby.
Your doctor will ask about your eating and exercise habits and any possible exposure to environmental hazards. Your doctor will want to know about any pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, as well as any genetic problems in your family. Also tell your doctor what kind of birth control you are using and whether you have had any menstruation problems, miscarriages, abortions or ectopic pregnancies.
Pregnant women with high blood pressure (hypertension) are more likely to develop preeclampsia and have placental problems. You and your doctor will just have to work out a plan for managing it during pregnancy.
A standard pelvic exam will let your doctor make sure all your parts (uterus, ovaries, cervix) are in normal working order. If you have an infection or a condition such as fibroids or ovarian cysts, you can start treating the problem now and increase your odds of a healthy pregnancy.
A Pap smear, typically part of a standard pelvic exam and usually done twice a year, or as needed, checks for any potential cervical abnormalities and other diseases. If you have or have had any sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes, chlamydia, or even HIV/AIDS, it is extremely important for your doctor to know about them. If you have not been tested yet, he/she will probably do a cervical culture and a blood test to make sure you are all right. Being screened and treated (or in the case of HIV/AIDS, managing the disease) before you conceive can significantly increase your odds of a successful pregnancy.
Your doctor checks a urine sample for urinary tract infections (UTIs) and diabetes. Urinary tract infections have been associated with miscarriage, low birth weight, and premature labor, so if you have such an infection you will want to get it taken care of with antibiotics.
Your doctor will do a blood test to check your type and look for anemia or any other abnormalities. Depending on your ethnic background and medical history, you may also be tested for sickle-cell anemia, Tay-Sachs disease, and thalassemia. African-Americans, Jews, French-Canadians, and people of Mediterranean descent are most at risk for these problems.
A blood test will reveal whether you have been inoculated for diseases such as rubella. If you need to be vaccinated with a live viral vaccine, as for rubella (German measles), you should wait three months before trying to conceive. Your body will need time to eliminate the injected virus, and it is possible for an unborn child to contract the virus and (as with rubella), suffer birth defects including deafness, encephalitis, and heart problems. Make sure to get a tetanus booster and consider getting vaccinated for hepatitis B.
An under-active thyroid can lead to miscarriage, infertility, or problems in fetal development. If you have a history of thyroid problems, your doctor should test yours before you start trying to get pregnant.
A simple blood test can determine whether you've had toxoplasmosis (most often transmitted through cat feces or undercooked meat) You will have to avoid the litter box and raw meat before and during pregnancy, as most available treatments for toxoplasmosis are not safe for fetuses.
About 2 to 3 percent of babies are born with a major birth defect. You may be referred to a genetic counselor if you or your partner have any risk factors, including a family history of genetic disease, or if you are older than 35. Some routine genetic screening will be part of your preconception physical examination.
More information is available at KnowYourGenes.