Preconception health refers to health before pregnancy. It focuses on a person's health during their life course for both themselves and for any future pregnancies. There are many conditions and risk factors that could affect a person and their baby if they become pregnant. The goal of preconception health is to improve the health of people and their families through access to comprehensive medical care, promotion of healthy behaviors, ensuring good social and emotional support, and creating safe environments at home and at work.

Despite important advances in medicine and prenatal care in recent years, many babies in the United States are born prematurely or at low birth weight. Experts agree that the best way to improve the health of families and babies is for people to be in a good state of health before becoming pregnant. The new recommendations have been developed by local, state, and federal government agencies, with help from national medical organizations and groups such as the March of Dimes. They offer guidance to individuals and their families, health care providers, educators, and planners. The goal is to improve the health of all people so that babies can be born healthier in the future.

Absolutely. Preconception health applies to all people, whether or not they want to get pregnant. Many of the recommendations for preconception health, such as achieving a healthy weight and quitting smoking, are ways to improve health even if a person does not plan to get pregnant. In addition, nearly half of pregnancies are unplanned and 85% of all women and birthing people in the United States will have a baby at some point in their lives. Although you may not be thinking about having a baby now, you may become pregnant in the future.  By taking important steps to improve your health today, you can also improve the health of any future pregnancies you may have. Lives are rich and complex, and the possibility of pregnancy is only one factor affecting health choices. The more that people know about the health care relevant to their own circumstances, the more empowered they are to make the right choices for their lives. 

Every person should prepare for pregnancy before becoming sexually active, or at least three months before conception. Women and people with the capacity for pregnancy, should begin some of the recommendations even sooner – such as quitting smoking, reaching a healthy weight, and adjusting medications. Planning for pregnancy is also a good time to talk about other concerns that affect a person's health and their pregnancies. These issues include intimate partner violence, mental health, and previous pregnancy problems. Most people can do much on their own, but a health care provider is important to find and treat existing health problems. They can also help a person improve their health before pregnancy.

A reproductive life plan is a set of personal goals about having or not having children. It also states how to achieve those goals. Everyone needs to make a reproductive life plan based on their own values, goals, and resources. A reproductive life plan is important for your personal well-being, whether or not you plan to have children.  Planning if and when to have children helps you think about how you want to live your life and achieve your goals.  Almost half of the pregnancies in California are unplanned and could happen at a time when a woman’s health or social situation is not ideal.  Making a reproductive life plan can help ensure that you are healthy and ready if you choose to get pregnant.

Yes! The health of a man also affects his ability to have healthy children. Men can improve their own reproductive health by reducing stress, eating right, avoiding excessive alcohol use, not smoking, and talking to their health care providers about their own medications. Screening for and treating STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) in men can help make sure that the infections are not passed to female partners. In addition, as boyfriends, husbands, fathers-to-be, partners, and family members, they can learn how the women in their lives can achieve optimal preconception health. They can encourage and support women in every aspect of preparing for pregnancy.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to grow a healthy baby. Creating healthy environments in which all people can produce and raise healthy children is everyone’s responsibility. Community groups can help by educating themselves about all of the factors that influence health and by taking a stand to work together for community improvements that will have an impact on their members’ health now in order to ensure the health of future generations.   

Health care providers have a lot to cover during an appointment, so it’s always a good idea to make a list and bring up any issues on your mind. It’s also important to discuss you plans for pregnancy with your provider. If you tell your provider that you might become pregnant in the near future, there will be a number of things to discuss.

Your health care provider should:

  • Review your family’s medical history. This includes your previous experiences with pregnancy, fertility, birth, and use of birth control methods.
  • Ask about your lifestyle, behaviors, and social support concerns that affect your health. Do you smoke, drink alcohol, use drugs, or have psychological problems, including depression? Do you have nutrition and diet issues? Concerns about health conditions in your or your partner’s family? Are there issues around intimate partner domestic violence? What are the medications you are taking? Are there chemicals, solvents, radiation, or other potential risks at your workplace or home that could harm you or the baby if you become pregnant?
  • Schedule health screening tests – Pap smear, urinalysis, blood tests. Your provider needs to know your blood type, Rh factor, and whether you have diabetes, hypertension, sexually transmitted infections, or other conditions.
  • Review your immunization status and update them if needed.
  • Perform a physical exam, including a pelvic exam and a blood pressure check.

Based on your individual health, your health care provider will suggest a course of treatment or follow up care as needed.