Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 23: Preconception Counseling for a Healthy, Informed Pregnancy

Welcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl never knew about.

pregnancyFew moments in life are as important and complex as when a woman makes the decision of whether and when to have children. There are many considerations to take into account when planning to conceive, many of which can affect not only the baby, but the mother as well.

Preconception counseling, a service of Planned Parenthood Arizona, can provide those who wish to conceive with valuable information about their own health, suggestions about how to best manage their wellness for pregnancy, and education about a range of outcomes (including the possibility of miscarriage). Preconception counseling can assist you in creating an environment focused on optimal health for both you and your future child.

These counseling services include:

  • targeted medical history with focus on teratogenic exposures, ethnic background, and family history
  • social history with focus on risk factors for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), tobacco, alcohol, and street drug use
  • history of chronic illnesses
  • physical exam
  • labs as indicated (STDs, diabetes screening, etc.)
  • genetic counseling referrals as indicated
  • immunization review
  • folic acid utilization
  • review of current medications and possible hazardous exposures

The above list might seem long and detailed, but upon closer examination, you might not know what all of these things mean. What are teratogenic exposures? What does folic acid have to do with a healthy pregnancy? Let’s look at some of these topics in more depth.

A teratogen is a substance or disease that, when exposed to a pregnant woman, may cause birth defects. Examples of teratogens include, but are not limited to, alcohol, street drugs, and certain prescription medications. Diabetes present in an expecting mother is a common condition that is also considered a teratogen.

Alcohol use and smoking are two of the leading causes of birth defects. After taking your social history, we can help you learn about how alcohol and tobacco use might affect your pregnancy, and help you take steps to address these activities, if necessary — for example, taking advantage of our smoking cessation program.

While a chronic condition doesn’t guarantee pregnancy complications, diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia, and epilepsy may increase pregnancy risks. During preconception counseling, a physician can advise you on how to best manage these conditions to prepare for your pregnancy.

During your physical exam, your physician may discuss your weight, and assist you in creating a plan to get to a healthy weight before trying to conceive. A physician can also educate you about how to gain the right amount of weight to support the health of both you and the baby.

How you approach your pregnancy and birth can vary greatly if you currently have an STD. Knowing if you have an STD can allow you and your physician to use the appropriate measures to ensure the health of your baby.

If you are pregnant or may become pregnant, it is recommended that you consume at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to help prevent certain types of birth defects. You can take supplements, and can also choose foods that are naturally higher in folic acid.

Upon reviewing your current medications, your physician will determine if these prescriptions could put you and your pregnancy at risk, and provide suggestions and alternatives to prepare you for pregnancy.

Preparing for pregnancy can often feel just as complex as deciding to become pregnant in the first place, but by utilizing the preconception counseling service offered by Planned Parenthood Arizona and most physicians, you can eliminate some of the guesswork. Being educated and informed about your own health can help produce positive health outcomes for your future child, and equip you for the next step in your journey as a mother.

Interested in preconception counseling? Contact your local Planned Parenthood to make an appointment today!