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Soooo you think you want to have a baby? I always thought it was kind of crazy that we spend most of our lives trying NOT to get pregnant and then when the time finally comes, we have found our life partner, and we are ready (we think!), it’s a little more of a complicated process than just ‘doing the deed.’
Some people get pregnant the second they even think about a baby (ahem, our honeymoon baby!), while others may struggle with infertility or may miscarry after conceiving. Even each pregnancy for a couple can be very, very different.
You and your partner should begin planning for conception 6-12 months before actually ‘trying’. For the man in your life, sperm take about 4 months to produce so you want to allow him at least that much time for changes in diet, lifestyle or chemical exposures to have a positive effect.
It’s also important to consider that you probably won’t know that you are pregnant for the first 3-4 weeks of your pregnancy. This is a critical time for your baby who is already forming his major organs, so you already want to have healthy lifestyle habits in place.
1. Aim for a healthy weight
This is an important one because you don’t wait to be too heavy or too thin. The ideal body mass index (BMI) for pregnancy is between 19 and 24.
I have worked with a lot of athletes, and because of the caloric deficit caused by the strenuous nature of their workouts, sometimes they don’t even get periods (not a good thing!). Being underweight can lower estrogen and progesterone levels, which prohibits ovulation. This makes it tough to get pregnant until caloric balance is restored to a healthy place where menstrual cycles resume. Underweight mothers are at risk for decreased fertility, preterm labor, anemia, and low birth-weight babies.
On the other hand, overweight mothers are at risk for high blood pressure, oversized babies, gestational diabetes and C-sections. You don’t want to ‘diet’ during pregnancy so it is important to get your weight controlled before conception. Then during pregnancy you can focus on maintaining a healthy weight. As always, there is no magic answer for how to do this, other than stick to a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Choosing to cook at home instead of eating out, shopping the perimeter of the grocery store (whole unprocessed foods), and choosing water over soda or other sugary drinks can make a HUGE difference, so start there.
2. Start pumping some iron
Being active before and during your pregnancy can help relieve aches and pains, improve sleep, perk up your mood, boost energy, decrease breathlessness and help you cope with stress. You will also be able to recover more quickly after birth if you are in good shape to begin with. If you are already working out – keep it up girl! It is absolutely safe to continue the activities that you love while you are trying to conceive.
After you conceive things may change a tiny bit. See my post on 10 Tips for Surviving the First Trimester for advice for exercising during pregnancy.
If you are just starting out with an exercise regimen, speak with your physician and get the green light from her first. You should ease into things with walking, yoga, swimming or light weight lifting. Just get your little tush moving!
3. Get your stress in check
Simplify your life. Be choosy with extra assignments at your job. Take some time for yourself. Meditate. Watch a Real Housewives marathon. Go for a run. Practice minimalism. Get outside. Write in a journal.
It’s important to be in the best mental state possible before conceiving and having a child as stress can affect fertility. You also want pregnancy to be a happy and relaxed time in your life! Soon you will have a little (crying!) bundle of joy that will need you and you want to be the best mama you can be for them! In medical school, we were always taught that you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others, and it is no different in caring for a baby. Treat yo self!
4. Take a prenatal vitamin
Ideally you should start a prenatal vitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid 3-6 months before conception. Folate is super important in the first weeks of pregnancy because it can reduce the risk of spine and brain defects by up to 70 percent. These defects can happen in the first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy (aka, before you even know you’re pregnant!) so this is why you should be taking a prenatal vitamin BEFORE you get preggo. See my previous post on why I love SmartyPants vitamins!
Let’s not forget about dads-to-be! The men in our lives should also get take a daily vitamin containing folic acid, zinc and vitamin C, which help with sperm production and quality.
5. Visit your doctor
We definitely want to see you during this exciting time! You’ll want to make sure you are up to date on your immunizations. You should ideally be vaccinated for chickenpox and rubella at least three months before you conceive if you are not already immune since these are ‘live’ vaccines. You also want to make sure you are up to date on tetanus, hepatitis, and flu vaccines.
STD testing is also important because undiagnosed STD’s can prevent you from getting pregnant – and not all STD’s have obvious symptoms.
If you have chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, or thyroid problems you and your doctor should work together to make sure these are under the best control possible. Also check that the medications you are taking for these diseases are safe in pregnancy or that you have discussed them with your physician and the benefit outweighs the risk.
NEVER STOP A MEDICATION WITHOUT SPEAKING WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST. Please and thank you!
Talk to your doc about what medications are safe in pregnancy and what meds you should avoid, including over-the-counter medications and supplements. Then go home and…
6. Clean out your medicine cabinet
Many medicines including over the counter products can be harmful to your baby-to-be or can even affect your fertility. You should speak with your doctor about what medications are safe for you to take and get rid of anything else.
7. Say hi to your dentist too
No one loves going to the dentist but more than 80 percent of Americans have some form of gum disease and among pregnant women that number climbs close to 100 percent! Hormonal changes during pregnancy make the mouth a cozy place for bacteria. Gum disease can increase the risk of delivering a preterm or low birth weight baby so making sure your pearly whites are in tip top shape is important!
8. Cut back on your java
I know, I know, this one is TOUGH! But excessive caffeine intake (above 300 mg/day) can decrease fertility and lead to an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery and low birth weight baby. You probably want to start cutting back on the java before you try to conceive because you don’t want to suffer withdrawal symptoms (talk about a HEADACHE!). Don’t forget that caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, chocolate, and certain medications (Excedrin).
9. Quit Smoking
Both you and your partner should kick the habit now. Smoking increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm delivery and having a low birth weight baby. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, it is estimated that up to 13 percent of fertility issues may be due to tobacco use. Infants born to parents who smoke are at a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as well as respiratory and ear infections. Secondhand smoke is also harmful for a fetus so make sure your partner is smoke-free as well. Take on this challenge together!
10. Avoid alcohol
And any other illegal substances (duh.) This goes for both partners as excess alcohol intake can interfere with your fertility or lower sperm count in your partner. Drinking after conception increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, can cause learning problems, and can increase your chances of having a low birth weight baby. It can also cause learning problems later in life.
There has been a lot of talk about recent studies that show that low to moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy may not significantly harm children. A Danish study published in 2012 found no major neurodevelopmental problems among children younger than 5 years old whose mothers had 1-8 alcoholic drinks a week.
It is important to note that this study only looked at neurodevelopmental function but there is still a higher risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm delivery, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in mothers who drink during pregnancy. Most physicians still recommend abstaining from alcohol completely. Everyone processes alcohol differently and there is no known exact ‘safe’ amount of alcohol during pregnancy. See the official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations here.
If you need help cutting out alcohol or any other substances please speak with your doctor – they are there to help!
11. Have your man switch from briefs to boxers
Boxers are a cooler, more sperm friendly environment. Sweaty balls are a big no no when it comes to getting pregnant (and pretty much in general)! Long bike rides, saunas, hot tubs and even keeping his laptop on his lap can decrease his sperm count.
12. Think your decision through
Are you emotionally and financially ready for a baby? Does you job offer maternity leave? (Mine doesn’t offer ANY paid maternity leave or sick time….say whaaaaaaat?!) What will you do for childcare? Does your health insurance cover pregnancy? Do you need a bigger house? Or a house in a better school district? A bigger car? What religious traditions, if any, do you want to continue? Is your relationship stable? Please, please, please don’t think adding a baby to the mix will help your relationship get back on track – work on yourselves first. There is a lot to discuss with your partner so spend some time together cozied up on the couch imagining and planning for the future!
13. Stop your birth control
It is absolutely possible to get pregnant right after stopping the pill or other forms of birth control. Keep this in mind and consider using a condom until you are actually ready to see those two bright lines on a pregnancy test! Typically it is recommended to stop your birth control about two months before trying to get pregnant. This allows your periods to return to normal and you can begin tracking them to see when you ovulate.
If your period is still MIA three months after stopping your birth control please see your doctor!
14. Figure out when you ovulate
Now that you’ve been off of birth control what are your natural cycles like? 28 days? 32 days? If you have been tracking your cycles with an app (sugestions above) typically they will calculate your most fertile days for you as well as your likely day of ovulation. You can also track other things like mid cycle cramping (ovulation!), cervical mucous changes, or basal body temperature (BBT). In these high-tech days, you can even buy ovulation predictor kits that test your urine for the LH surge, which occurs roughly 36 hours before ovulation.
Don’t get ripped off and buy these at the grocery store, you can get ovulation test strips in bulk on Amazon for WAY cheaper.
15. Get it on…
This is the fun part! For the best chance of conceiving, have sex every other day during your fertile window. When it comes to conceiving more is not necessarily better and the day of rest allows the amount of sperm to build up again. And for the record, there is no evidence that certain sex positions improve your chances of getting pregnant. So by all means go ahead and try that reverse cowgirl! Just don’t jump up and head to the shower right away afterwards, laying down for a little while will help the sperm get to the cervix without having to swim against gravity! Plus isn’t it nice to snuggle?!
Don’t stress out if you don’t get pregnant right away! It takes a typical healthy couple about 6 months to get preggo!
If you are under 35 and have been off birth control and trying to get pregnant for 12 months, or above 35 and have been trying for 6 months, you should see you doctor.
If you are over 40, have a high or low BMI, have a thyroid condition, a known reproductive condition such as PCOS, pelvic pain, multiple miscarriages, a complicated medical history, or if your mom went through menopause early you should see your doctor right away!