Questions to Ask Your Doctor

There’s no doubt that starting a family is one of life’s major decisions. Although it can happen when you aren’t expecting it, careful planning is likely to greatly improve the experience! If you’re thinking about trying to get pregnant in the near future, talk to your doctor now. Sound medical advice and information can lead to clearer expectations and better outcomes. They can also help you begin making the life changes necessary for a healthy pregnancy. So make that appointment with your primary care provider or gynecologist soon. Then, start writing down those questions to ask your doctor to answer. Here are four that can get you started.

What About Birth Control?

If you aren’t pregnant now, you’re probably using some form of birth control. When and how you should stop depends on what you’re using now. It also depends on when you want to begin trying to conceive.

To dispel a couple of common myths, birth control does not affect your fertility after you have stopped using it. Nor does the number of years you’ve been on it affect how quickly you can get pregnant.

Getting pregnant requires resumption of ovulation and the menstrual cycle, which are interrupted by hormonal birth control. How fast those will resume depends on the method you’ve been using.

If your pill, patch, or ring use both estrogen and progestin, it might take one to three months. If you take the progestin-only minipill, it could take mere days or weeks for your cycle to resume. Resumption may be immediate if you remove your IUD or implant.

If you’ve been getting the birth control shot, it could take three or four months to get pregnant. For some, it takes 10 or more months to resume ovulation and 18 or more before their period restarts.

Don’t count on not getting pregnant soon after you stop using your birth control. Perhaps you want to halt your birth control but don’t want to conceive right away. If so, use a barrier method, such as a condom or diaphragm, until you’re ready.

During your discussion with your doctor, you might also ask about postnatal birth control options. Those containing estrogen have been suspected to reduce breast milk production in some breastfeeding women.

There are no specific timelines for when your body will return to normal ovulation and menstruation. Nonetheless, your doctor can give you some guidelines that might help inform your birth control-related decisions. Just ask.

Do I Need to Get or Avoid Any Vaccines?

This question is particularly timely given the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Clinical studies were not conducted on pregnant or breastfeeding women before the vaccines were authorized for use. Those are beginning now.

COVID vaccine studies on animals vaccinated before and during pregnancy showed no adverse effects. Data is being gathered regarding pregnant and breastfeeding women and infants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that pregnant women are at greater risk for severe symptoms of COVID-19. This includes ICU admissions, ventilator use, and death. The CDC also says they are at greater risk for preterm birth. Therefore, the risks of vaccination are probably greatly outweighed by the dangers of contracting the virus.

Most vaccines are safe and effective for pregnant women. In fact, many of them prevent disease which could cause pregnancy complications. The flu, for example, can cause miscarriage or premature labor.

If you’re just thinking about getting pregnant now, it might be a good time to get caught up on your vaccines. Those might include COVID-19, hepatitis A and B, flu, measles, chicken pox, and rubella. However, some vaccines are contraindicated for women taking steroids or other medications for immune disorders.

This is an extremely important topic to discuss with your doctor sooner rather than later. Updating your immunizations before trying to conceive might be the best course of action. Your doctor can help you make that decision.

How Does My Health and My Partner’s Health Affect Pregnancy?

The status of your health and that of your partner should be a hot topic between both of you and your doctor. You should discuss such issues as surgeries, medications, radiation and chemotherapy treatment, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Your health significantly impacts your ability to conceive, have a good pregnancy, and deliver a healthy baby.

STIs can cause pregnancy complications and severe issues for the baby. Fortunately, antibiotics for treatment of STIs such as chlamydia and syphilis can be taken safely during pregnancy. Incurable STIs, such as genital herpes and HIV, sometimes may be treated safely with antiviral medications.

If either of you has a disorder that runs in your family, you’ll want to address it. Genetic testing can identify conditions such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease. Results can’t necessarily predict whether you’ll pass it along to your child, but they can help your doctor calculate risk.

You should also talk about any mental health conditions either of you have and treatment for them. Pregnancy is often a contented time for moms-to-be. However, studies indicate that up to 20% of women experience mood or anxiety disorders during pregnancy.

If you suffer from a mental health disorder that requires taking a psychotropic medication, you need to be particularly careful. Whether it’s safe to continue your medications — or what happens if you discontinue them — is a critical topic of conversation.

What About My Weight and My Lifestyle?

Weight is a factor in pregnancy: yours and your partner’s. Obesity in men can reduce fertility. This reduction might be attributed to hormones, problems with erections, and/or sperm counts. 

Obese women often experience fertility problems related to a hormone called leptin. Produced in fatty tissue, leptin overproduction can put your hormonal balance out of whack.

If you do conceive, being overweight may cause serious complications during pregnancy. There are elevated risks for miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and high blood pressure, among others. Babies born to obese mothers are at greater risk of long-term health issues, including being overweight themselves.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are women who are underweight. Low weight can cause hormonal problems and inhibit ovulation.

The good news is that a little weight loss or gain as needed can improve outcomes considerably. Your doctor should be able to make recommendations about diet and exercise that can help.

Of course, lifestyle changes are vital to your health and your child’s. Smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use, and a poor diet are all dangerous for you, your pregnancy, and your baby. A child will change your lifestyle anyway, so you might as well get started!

Pregnancy Calls for Extreme Honesty

If you’re thinking about trying to get pregnant, now is not the time to be coy. This decision is extremely important to your health, your partner’s, and your potential child’s. So lay all your cards on the table.

Doctors can’t give you sound advice if you don’t give them all pertinent information. You need not only to ask good questions, but to answer theirs openly and completely. It’s the only way to truly know what to expect when you’re ready to be expecting.