Trying to get pregnant
Your family health history
Learning about your family health history can help you make important health choices in your life. It also can help you learn about the health of your baby even before he’s born!
Your family health history can give you clues that help you know more about family traits (like height and hair color) that are passed down. It also can help you and your provider know what to look out for, like illnesses or other health problems that may run in your family.
Your family health history also can include common family lifestyle choices, like smoking or drinking alcohol.
How do you begin learning about your family health history?
You can start getting your family health history together anytime. A good time to start is as you begin planning your family.
A family health history form (.PDF, 424KB) can be a helpful tool for you and your partner to gather information.
Send a copy to other family members related to you by blood. Have them add as much information as they can about their health and the health of their parents, grandparents and other family. Try to get a form from everyone in your family and your partner’s family. A good time to ask for this information is at family gatherings.
Keep in mind that not everyone is comfortable talking about health history. Go easy and don’t be upset if people don’t want to share. Try a one-on-one conversation with those who may not want to fill out the form.
How do you find information on family members that are no longer living?
If you have trouble finding information from family members who lived before you, you can:
- Get death certificates from state health departments. They usually cost under $10 and generally have information on the family member’s age and how he died.
- Seek medical records from health providers who cared for the family member or the hospital where he died.
- Keep copies of health checkups, hospital forms, tests results and other health records you find.
You may be worried about what you may find out about your family’s health. Keep in mind that learning about health problems can help you and your family members live healthier lives.
You may be able to get treatment for and even prevent some health problems. So knowing about them is a good thing. It can help you live a healthy life. No matter what you find, the information you learn can be helpful to you, your children and generations to come.
How can you use your family health history?
You can use your family health history to make choices in your health care. If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, you can tell your provider about any health problems that run in your family at your preconception visit or your first prenatal care checkup.
For example, if your family has a history of diabetes, you may want to watch your weight and eat healthy foods. Your provider can help you stay healthy so that you can have a healthy baby.
Keep learning about your family health history. As you find out more, add information to your questionnaire and other records.
If you learn that your family has a health problem that gets passed down from parent to child, you may want to see a genetic counselor. A genetic counselor is a provider with special medical training who knows how genes work and how they can carry health problems from parents to babies.
You can share the information you learned with your genetic counselor to find out the chances of your baby getting family health problems or other family traits.
Who else knows about your health information?
If you’re trying to get pregnant, your health care provider may have you answer health questions to find out about your family health history. She may have you answer these questions using a paper form or a computer while you’re in the waiting room.
It can be hard sharing such personal information, like if your parents are still alive and if they’re healthy. Know that the answers you give help you and your provider give you and your baby the best care.
All of the health information you share is private and safe. It doesn’t matter if the information comes from your prenatal tests, is written down in a paper form, gets added into a computer or is shared during a talk you have with your provider. Only your health care team knows your health information.
So, don’t be afraid to give honest answers or share your concerns with your provider. She can’t tell anyone else what you say without your permission.
For more information:
Maternal & Child Health Library
U.S. Surgeon General’s Office
See also: A family health history form (.PDF, 424KB), Chinese family health history brochure (PDF, 382KB), Importance of family health history in the African-American community (PDF, 988KB)