Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition who specializes in women’s health. She is a certified personal trainer and prenatal and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. Stephanie guides and supports women locally and globally through her web-based private practice, RockYourHormones.com.
The information included in Dear Stephanie posts is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation, or if you have any questions regarding conception, pregnancy, or your prenatal treatment plan. For more Dear Stephanie posts, click here. Have a question for Steph? Click here to e-mail her.
Should I schedule a preconception check-up? – Ethel M., via Instagram
To answer your question in one word: Yes. If you want to and can get lab tests done as you prepare to conceive, go for it! Having this information can promote optimal health. This benefits you whether or not you ultimately decide if you want to have a baby or not. As you discover your unique situation, you can supplement or make other lifestyle changes accordingly. This information can help you feel your very best and know where you’re at so that you can make informed choices.
So, that’s my simple answer: yes. But, I’ll give you a little more information about what you can expect during a preconception check-up with your OBGYN or other health care provider.
In our blog 5 Ways You (And Your Partner) Can Prepare for Conception, we discussed lab testing as an option for couples preparing to conceive. While this isn’t a necessary step for all couples looking to start a family, it can provide important information. Think back to the last time you had a full blood panel done to better understand how your body is functioning. It may have been months (or years) ago. You may have never been tested (in the case of nutrient deficiencies and sperm health). I personally find lab testing to be an important step. It can identify possible imbalances that you may not be aware you’re dealing with. As the saying goes, “test, don’t guess.” This is true during the preconception period, your pregnancy, and in the postpartum period.
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Working with Your Healthcare Provider
You don’t need to go crazy ordering every single lab test available to you. In fact, please don’t. That can lead to unnecessary stress and require a significant financial commitment. Instead, work with your provider to generate a solid game plan. Take into consideration your age, diet/lifestyle factors, how long you’ve been trying to conceive, past pregnancy loss(es), and other variables that may impact your overall health.
The type of provider you work with impacts which tests you recieve during your preconception check-up. Some providers may be unfamiliar with tests like Spectracell or Genova’s nutrient testing. They may also be unaware of specific genetic mutation tests like MTHFR. This is not to say they’re not the best provider for you. It’s important to understand, however, that not all doctors do this comprehensive testing. You may need to work with a naturopathic doctor, functional medicine provider, or integrative medicine practitioner.
It’s also important to know that some of these less conventional tests (such as comprehensive hormone tests, nutrient testing, and thyroid antibodies) may not be covered by your insurance. It can be an investment, so this is where you and your provider can work together to decide what the best option is for your situation.
A Note on Finding the Right Provider
I’ve worked with some couples in the preconception period who wanted lab testing prior to conceiving but their provider dismissed their concerns. For example, one woman requested a vitamin D test prior to conceiving (a very reasonable request). Her healthcare provider told her she was fine and not to worry. She decided to pay out of pocket for this test and found out she was very deficient in vitamin D. I’m not saying you shouldn’t trust your healthcare provider, but sometimes you have to advocate for what your gut is telling you.
If your provider pushes back about testing you desire or you feel like your provider doesn’t affirm your concerns, you can always seek a second opinion. I can’t emphasize the importance of finding a provider that respects your wishes and you feel comfortable with enough. You can refer back to my two-part series on finding a provider. This isn’t to say that if your provider feels like a test isn’t necessary for you that they’re wrong. What’s more important is how you’re treated during that conversation. You deserve to feel heard and respected. If you receive an eye roll or a “no” without additional commentary, this may be a red flag to expand your search for your ideal provider.
You Deserve Support
After working with couples who are doing their best to conceive, I know how hard you are trying. It’s not easy on multiple levels. I know you’re doing your best, and I hope you find someone who is willing to work with you to dig deep to identify any underlying issues. I hope you find a solution that works for your family and whatever that solution is, you are proud of yourself and that choice. Becoming a parent can take many different routes, none of which are better than the other. Please do what is best for you and your family and reach out for support.
Our Whole Mamas pregnancy program provides information, resources, and support for pregnant women and for those who are trying to conceive. When you join our program, you gain access to our private Facebook group. We have many women in the group who are on their journey to conception that would love to support you and share their insight. I think you’ll find the community support a valuable asset along your journey and I hope to see you there soon!
Seek professional help when needed
While these tips are all designed to improve general health in preparation for conception, often even the most dedicated lifestyle efforts aren’t enough to help couples conceive. According to RESOLVE.org and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, you should seek the care of a specialist if you are unable to achieve pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected intercourse (if the women is under the age of 35), or six months if the women is more than 35 years of age. You should also seek the care of a specialist if you have had more than one miscarriage. For more information, support, and resources, visit http://resolve.org.