The path to a healthy pregnancy and baby starts long before conception. From getting any health concerns you have in check, to assessing your stress level and getting your finances in order, the more you can address now, the better prepared you will be when your little bundle of joy arrives.
The investment you make getting your body ready for pregnancy now will pay big dividends for your newborn.
Make a doctor’s appointment
Let your primary doctor know that you’re planning on getting pregnant. Your physician will want to make sure any chronic conditions are managed. “Pregnancy can tax the system and bring underlying diseases, like diabetes or high blood pressure, to the forefront,” says Dr. Ronald Hirth, an OB/GYN at Premier Health Atrium Medical Center. “These diseases can cause complications during pregnancy, so it’s really important make sure they are well controlled.”
It may also be advisable to change some medications you take to those that are safe during pregnancy. And be sure to tell your doctor about any over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements or essential oils you use, as some may not be safe to use while pregnant.
Visit your OB/GYN
Schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN to have a Pap smear and, if you’re older, a mammogram, too. Preconception visits are also a good time to review family history on both sides, so get any background info you need on instances of diabetes, heart issues, birth defects, miscarriages and multiples. Depending on your family history and ancestry, your doctor may recommend that you and your partner undergo genetic testing to assess the risk of inherited diseases.
Get vaccines up to date
If you haven’t had a flu shot lately, go get one. Your doctor may also recommend that you update your MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and Tdap (whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria) vaccines. Make sure other members of your family are current on their shots, too.
Go to the dentist
It’s important to take care of any issues with your teeth and gums before you conceive. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause tender gums that bleed easily, so it’s best to have everything checked out before you become pregnant.
Start taking a prenatal vitamin
Even before you’re actually pregnant, the nutrients in prenatal vitamins will help prepare your body for what’s to come. Prenatal vitamins should contain folic acid to help prevent neural tube defects and more iron to promote strong growth and development. Your doctor may also recommend higher doses of certain nutrients depending on your health history.
Cut back on caffeine
If you drink more than four cups of coffee per day, consider weaning yourself down before getting pregnant. Reducing your coffee intake now will save you the pain and misery of going cold turkey while also dealing with morning sickness!
Curb alcohol consumption
As with caffeine, now is the time to cut back. Soon you will not be able to drink at all, so prep yourself in advance if you think reducing your alcohol intake will be difficult for you.
Smoking during pregnancy is dangerous, leading to low birth weights and other complications. It can also hurt your chances of conceiving. Give yourself adequate time to quit smoking and if you’re having trouble, ask your doctor for help. The same goes for marijuana and other drugs.
Establishing a healthy exercise routine before getting pregnant will help you stay moving as your pregnancy progresses, keeping weight gain in check and preparing your body for the marathon of labor. Being overweight increases the chances of various health problems, so getting fit before getting pregnant can go a long way toward a healthy nine months.
“If you’re overweight, it’s going to predispose you to preeclampsia, diabetes, difficult delivery, large babies, and so on,” says Dr. Margaret LeMasters, OB/GYN and founder of For Women Inc. “When you’re already carrying extra weight and then you are growing a baby, your knees hurt, your joints ache. It just makes everything more difficult.”
Along with helping you lose any extra pounds, it’s a good idea to get used to eating healthier now because it’s a change you will need to sustain while you’re pregnant. That means choosing nutrient-dense foods, like whole grains, healthy fats and leafy greens, while cutting back on sugar and processed foods. Attempting a complete diet overhaul probably isn’t realistic, so choose a few changes that will have the greatest impact and transition slowly.
Just as you’re taking stock of your physical health, it’s important to evaluate your mental well-being before getting pregnant as well.
Assess your stress
How stressful is your job? Are you dealing with family drama? Have you had difficult pregnancies or births before, or are you worried about being able to get pregnant? All of these things can contribute to increased anxiety surrounding pregnancy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, takes steps to manage your stress now before conceiving.
Educate yourself on mood disorders
No one expects to struggle with depression or anxiety during or after pregnancy, but the statistics don’t lie. Twenty percent of new moms, that’s one in seven women, will deal with a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder. While some mood changes are expected during pregnancy, such as feeling more tired, irritable or worried, many women don’t realize that feelings like anxiety, anger, problems eating or sleeping and trouble remembering things could be signs of a larger problem.
Know your risk factors
Ignoring signs of a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder during pregnancy can make your postpartum period more difficult. “Postpartum depression is worse in women who were depressed during pregnancy. A lot of people forget that part,” LeMasters says.
Keep in mind that you are at a higher risk for a developing problem if you have a personal or family history of depression and anxiety, or if you’ve dealt with issues such as severe PMS, infertility, pregnancy losses, abuse or health issues, especially thyroid disease and diabetes.
Let’s face it, kids cost a lot. Getting your financial house in order now will let you focus more on the joy of parenthood later.
Create a budget
How much will a baby cost your family? Sit down with your partner and estimate expenses such as child care, possible income changes and tax breaks. Creating a preliminary budget will help you figure out where you are now and where you may want to cut back when your family expands.
What’s your life insurance strategy? Many people have group insurance at work, but some experts recommend getting an outside policy as well. Planning ahead will also give you extra time to get in shape to get the best rates.
Kevin Tierney, certified financial planner and vice president of investments at The Leugers Group of Raymond James, and father of three, says, “In most cases, I recommend term life insurance because it’s the most affordable for new parents, and I always suggest 30 years, because it gives you time to catch up on your own financial well-being if needed.”
You’ll also want to have a will in place once your baby is born, and it’s not too early to start thinking about who you and your partner would name as your child’s guardian should both of you die. It’s also worth investigating Social Security survivor benefits (visit www.ssa.gov/survivors for more information.)
Now is the time to get rid of high-interest debt that can drain your savings with annual interest and hurt your ability to get loans. “Car and house debt is expected for most of us, but if you have credit card debt, that’s bad,” Tierney stresses. “It’s the first thing you need to get rid of.”
Build an emergency fund
To have adequate funds in the event of an emergency, the rule of thumb is to have enough money to cover at least six months of expenses. The funds should be in a saving account, not invested, so they’re easily accessible if necessary. Still paying off credit card debt? Do that first, then start building your emergency fund, Tierney says.
Examine health insurance options
Priorities change once a baby arrives, and your health insurance selections may too. Low-premium, high-deductible plans are great for young, healthy couples without kids, but parents often find that a high-premium plan helps them better budget for out-of-pocket costs.
Investigate college funds
It’s never too early to start thinking about how you’ll finance your child’s college education. Read up on different plans available, like 529s (www.irs.gov/publications/p970/ch08.html) and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (www.irs.gov/publications/p970/ch07.html) so you can start funneling money there as soon as your baby is born.
Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t! You have time. Set deadlines, be intentional and get help from your partner and other family members. By prepping for pregnancy well in advance, you’ll be able to celebrate more and worry less when you see those wonderful blue lines appear on your pregnancy test.
Maggie Loiselle spent 10 years as a writer, producer and web editor in television news before making the switch to freelance writing in order to stay home with her young son. She is a Michigan native and a graduate of Butler University. Maggie lives in downtown Indianapolis with her husband and son.