Do you have baby fever? You and your partner may be ready to get to work on babymaking, but are you ready for pregnancy?
Just as there are nine months in a pregnancy, there are nine things you should do to ensure you are best prepared. We spoke with Beth Andresen, a women’s health nurse practitioner with Banner Health in Arizona, who shares important steps every woman should take pre-pregnancy.
9 steps to prepare for pregnancy
1. Track your cycle (if you don’t already). To understand the best “time” to get pregnant, you’ll want to become super familiar with your menstrual cycle. The key to this is figuring out when you ovulate.
Record when your period starts and ends, what you notice about your flow and any symptoms, such as cramping or breast tenderness. Also, learn to spot some of the physical signs that you're ovulating such as clear, stretchy cervical mucus and a rise in your basal body temperature. If this seems daunting—don’t stress. There are lots of mobile apps out there designed to help make it easy to do.
2. Schedule a preconception appointment. The best way to prepare your body for pregnancy is to make sure your body is healthy. And the best way to do that is a checkup with your doctor. During your visit, your doctor will go over your health history, evaluate any medical concerns and advise you on how to have a happy, healthy pregnancy.
“This appointment is important because it helps to identify and prevent fetal maternal risks,” Andresen said. “Among some of the things you and your doctor will discuss is your medical history, any recommended immunizations, changes or adjustments to medications and questions or concerns you have.”
For a list of key questions to ask, check out “Five Questions To Ask Your Doctor Before Getting Pregnant.”
3. See the dentist. Keeping up with your regular dental visits is not only good for your teeth and gums but also your overall health.
“Poor dental hygiene and periodontal disease can be associated with pregnancy complications such as preterm delivery,” Andresen said. “Routine dental cleanings and dental care is encouraged prior to conception.”
4. Maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Eating a variety of healthy foods is important for good health, especially during pregnancy. You want to make sure you’re eating a variety of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and lean proteins. Hydration is also important, so drink plenty of water every day.
For a quick guide on eating right, check out “Pregnant and Hungry: A Guide to Eating Right.”
5. Take folic acid. Certain vitamins, particularly folic acid, are important for fetal health and development and in reducing the risk for birth defects, including cleft lip and palate and spinal bifida. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that all women of childbearing age take folic acid with at least 0.4 milligrams (mg) at least one to three months prior to conception.
“Women who have a higher risk of having a child with neural tube defects are encouraged to take higher doses, 1-4mg, of folic acid daily,” Andresen said. “This should also be initiated one to three months prior to conception and continue until 12 weeks of pregnancy.”
6. Get regular exercise. Keeping active while trying to become pregnant helps you in so many ways. Exercise can help you maintain an optimal weight, reduce stress and help you feel good throughout pregnancy. “I encourage all my patients to exercise a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes at least three times per week,” Andresen said.
For more tips to stay healthy preconception and pregnancy, read “Five Tips for a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy.”
7. Make a quit plan. It’s a good idea to make a plan to quit smoking, vaping, marijuana and illicit drug use. You should also limit and decrease alcohol consumption and cut caffeine use to 200mg per day. These can not only affect you and your baby during pregnancy, but they can also affect your ability to conceive as well.
“Fetal alcohol syndrome is a known complication of alcohol use in pregnancy,” Andresen said. “As well, smoking/vaping and the use of THC during pregnancy can cause low birth weight and preterm delivery.”
If you’re having a hard time quitting, talk to your health care provider during your preconception appointment.
8. Know your family’s genetic history for birth defects. If you, your partner and any other close relatives (that’s parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles) have a history of birth defects or inherited medical conditions, you may have a higher chance of having a baby with the same challenges.
Let your health care provider know during your preconception appointment. They may want to refer you to a genetic specialist. “Meeting with a genetic specialist gives you the opportunity to discuss screening options, results of screening tests, risks of disease in the fetus, the natural course of the disease and prenatal diagnoses and intervention,” Andresen said.
During your pregnancy, you’ll undergo several screenings. To learn what to expect, check out and print this helpful cheat sheet: “Prenatal Screenings and Tests: What to Expect Every Trimester.”
9. Budget for baby. Before you start a family, you’ll also want to get your finances in order, because raising kids isn’t cheap! Here are a few things to consider:
- Inquire about prenatal coverage on your insurance.
- Research the cost of prenatal services in your area.
- Look into workplace family medical leave.
- Find financial aid and check eligibility.
- Research childcare services.