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Information for Health Professionals

A man and woman doctor folding arms

Preconception health is part of overall health among women and men during their reproductive years. It focuses on steps that women, men, and health professionals can take to reduce risks and promote healthy lifestyles to prepare for a healthier pregnancy. Preconception health care refers to the preventive biomedical, behavioral, and social interventions that can increase the chances of having a healthy baby. Although preconception health care emphasizes preparing for pregnancy, all women and men of reproductive age can benefit, whether or not they plan to have a baby one day.

Evidence-Based Effectiveness

There is evidence that many preconception interventions reduce the risks of adverse pregnancy outcomes that include birth defects, fetal loss, low birthweight, and preterm delivery. The challenge for health professionals is to reach women and men with these interventions at the time they will be most effective in reducing risks.

Such interventions include:

  • Managing medical conditions (such as diabetes, obesity, phenylketonuria, sexually transmitted infections, hypothyroidism, seizure disorders, and HIV), including counseling women on the safest medication choices during pregnancy.
  • Counseling women to avoid certain risks (such as alcohol consumption, smoking, prescription and over-the-counter teratogenic medication use, excess vitamin intake, undernutrition, and exposure to toxic substances).
  • Counseling women to engage in healthy behaviors (such as reproductive life planning, folic acid consumption, and proper nutrition).
  • Counseling women about the availability of vaccines to protect their infants from the consequences of infections that affect the mother (such as rubella, varicella, and hepatitis B).
  • Counseling men to avoid certain risks (such as tobacco use and exposure to toxic substances).
  • Counseling men to engage in healthy behaviors (such as reproductive life planning, proper nutrition, and healthy weight maintenance).

CDC Prevention Checklist

Preventive health care can help you stay healthier throughout your life. Learn more »

Preconception Care: Timing is Key

Women might not be aware of a pregnancy until fetal development has progressed well into the vulnerable period (17-56 days after conception). The fetus is vulnerable to developing certain birth defects (such as neural tube defects, major brain anomalies, heart defects, limb deficiencies, and various ear and eye defects). This can have a major impact on the baby’s development if, during the vulnerable developmental period, a woman is exposed to certain prescription drugs that are known to cause birth defects, or exposed to hazardous substances in the workplace or home. Since prenatal health care often begins later, after weeks 11 or 12 of pregnancy, it may be too late to prevent these problems, so it is key that healthy behaviors are achieved and risky exposures are avoided before a pregnancy occurs.

What You Can Do

As a health professional, you have an important role in preconception health and health care. Health professionals can support the three goals of preconception care by:

  • Screening for risks.
  • Recommending interventions to address identified risks.
  • Promoting health and providing education.

To learn more about preconception care and how you can make it part of your medical practice, click on the following links:

Clinical Content for Women
Find information about the clinical content of preconception care for women, including information on screening, interventions, and health promotion.

Clinical Content for Men
Find information about the clinical content of preconception care for men, including information on screening, interventions, and health promotion.

Read about the 10 preconception care recommendations.

Reproductive Life Plan Tool
Use the reproductive life plan tool to obtain a printable set of questions designed for you (as a health professional) to use with your patients.

Environmental Scan
Compilation of tools with an existing evidence base, including both screening instruments and brief interventions.

Read important articles on preconception health and health care.

Resource Center
The Preconception Health and Health Care Resource Center is a comprehensive web directory of hyperlinks to tools and resources designed to advance the health of men and women of reproductive age.

Show Your Love Campaign
Show Your Love is a national campaign designed to improve the health of women and babies by promoting preconception health and healthcare. Buttons, posters, videos, and other resources are now available to help you promote preconception health to women in your communities.