Open Accessibility Menu

What you need to know about preconception care

  • Category: Family Birthing Center
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Dr. Schuyler Williams, Internal Medicine
One of the first things you do when you are trying to get pregnant is find a OBGYN doctor, but did you know that preconception care and counseling with your primary care physician can lessen your risks for birth defects? With January being birth defect awareness month Touro Primary Care Physician Dr. Williams talks about why women should consult their primary care physician when planning for a family.

What is a birth defect in children?

A birth defect (congenital anomaly) is a health problem or abnormal physical change that is present when a baby is born.
Birth defects can be very mild, where the baby looks and acts like any other baby. Or birth defects can be more severe. Some birth defects cause a single problem. Others cause problems in more than one body system or organ. Birth defects may cause lifelong disability and illness. Some severe birth defects can be life-threatening. A baby may live for only a few weeks or months. Or a child may die at a young age, such as when he or she is a teen.

Some birth defects can’t be cured. These include defects that cause learning or thinking problems. But many physical birth defects can be treated with surgery. Repair is possible for many birth defects, including cleft lip or cleft palate, and certain heart defects.

What is preconception care?

Preconception health care is the medical care a woman receives from their doctor that focuses on parts of health that have been shown to increase the chance of having a healthy baby.

It means living well, being healthy, and feeling good about your life.

RELATED: 10 things to do when you find out you're pregnant

Why is preconception care so important?

If you're planning to become pregnant, taking certain steps can help reduce risks for both you and your baby. Good health before deciding to become pregnant is almost as important as a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy.

The first few weeks of pregnancy are crucial in a child's development. But many women don't know they're pregnant until several weeks after conception. Planning and taking care of yourself before becoming pregnant is the best thing you can do for you and your baby.

What can I expect at this visit?

  • Review medications. The patient's medication list to make sure patient is not taking any teratogenic medications and that patient is taking folic acid supplementation (via prenatal vitamin)

  • Family health history. The healthcare provider will ask about your family health history, as well as your partner's. This helps find out if any family members have had any health problems, like high blood pressure, diabetes, or intellectual disability.

  • Alcohol use history. There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and a range of lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. These disabilities are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)

  • Genetic testing. This type of testing looks for any possible genetic disorders. Several genetic disorders may be inherited. One example is sickle cell anemia. It's a serious blood disorder that mainly happens in African Americans. Another is Tay-Sachs disease. It's a nerve breakdown disorder marked by worsening intellectual and developmental disabilities. It mainly occurs in people of Eastern European Jewish origin. Some genetic disorders can be found by blood tests before pregnancy.

  • Personal health history. Your healthcare provider will ask about your personal health history to determine if there are any:

    • Health conditions that may need special care during pregnancy—like epilepsy, diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia, or allergies

    • Previous surgeries

    • Past pregnancies

  • Vaccine status. Your healthcare provider will ask you about the vaccines you've had to assess your immunity to certain diseases, such as rubella (German measles). Getting rubella during pregnancy can cause miscarriage or birth defects. If you aren't immune to it, you may be given a vaccine at least one month before conception.

  • Infection screening. The healthcare provider will screen you for any sexually transmitted infections. These can be harmful to you and your baby.

Your primary care physician is concerned about your overall well-being. If you are planning to become pregnant discuss with your primary care provider or your OBGYN about some goals you can put in place for a happier and healthier you as well as baby-to-be!

Want to learn about "the place where babies come from"? Visit our Family Birthing Center,

About Dr. Schuyler Williams

Schuyler Williams

Dr. Williams specializes in Internal Medicine at Touro. She attended Meharry Medical Coll School of Medicine and completed her residency at Tulane University and is board-certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.