What you need to think about before you get pregnant

    Updated 16 October 2023 |
    Published 02 May 2019
    Fact Checked
    Medically reviewed by Dr. Jenna Flanagan, Academic generalist obstetrician and gynecologist, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Massachusetts, US
    Written by Olivia Cassano
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    Are you trying to conceive or considering it? Then, these practical pregnancy planning tips to get you prepared make for essential reading.

    Key takeaways 

    • Planning for pregnancy can feel like a daunting task. It can change every aspect of your life — from your lifestyle and health to your weekly budget and work. 
    • A few things to keep in mind while you’re trying for a baby include tracking your cycle, seeing your obstetrician and gynecologist (OB-GYN), looking after your physical and mental health, and adopting a healthy diet.
    • Alongside speaking to your doctor about your health before and during pregnancy, it’s important to look into your employer’s parental leave and benefits package, figure out when or if you might take some time out from work, and determine what your new budget might look like. 

    Pre-conception planning: What is it, and why is it important?

    Having a baby can change every aspect of your life, and if you’re considering having a baby, it’s never too early to start preparing. Pre-conception planning involves taking steps before pregnancy to boost your chances of having a healthy and happy pregnancy. It will look slightly different for everyone but can involve your physical and mental health, your finances, exercise regime, and relationship. So, here are 14 hints, tips, and things to consider before getting pregnant.  

    Everything you need to know about trying for a baby

    From when to have sex to early signs of pregnancy

    Tips on how to prepare for pregnancy

    1. Keep track of your cycle

    Tracking your cycle can help you figure out when your fertile window is. Your fertile window is the six days in the month when you’re most likely to get pregnant. It covers the five days before you ovulate (when one of your ovaries releases an egg to be potentially fertilized by a sperm) and the day of ovulation. By knowing the length of your cycle and tracking the date of your period, you can narrow down when you might ovulate and when your fertile window might be. This can help you to know when the best time for you to have conception sex is. 

    The average cycle length is from 21 to 35 days. If your cycle is irregular, then it can be trickier to establish when you’re ovulating. You can use an app like Flo to help you better understand your cycle patterns. Whether you’re trying to conceive or not, if you notice irregularities in your cycle, then it’s a good idea to talk to your health care provider. It could be an indication of an underlying problem

    2. Schedule a pre-conception checkup with your OB-GYN 

    You might be aware of the appointments you’ll have with your doctor once you have a positive pregnancy test, but what happens at your pre-conception checkup? Speaking to your health care provider before you conceive isn’t mandatory, but it might be helpful. You can speak to your doctor about any concerns you have and any guidance they may suggest as you start trying for a baby (more on this below).

    3. Stop contraception 

    This might seem obvious, but if you’re taking any form of contraception (such as the contraceptive pill, intrauterine device [IUD], or implant), then you may want to talk to your health care provider about the best way to go off it. Depending on the type you’re taking, your ability to get pregnant may return immediately. However, for other people, it may take a few months before their cycle returns to normal. 

    4. Take a prenatal supplement 

    It can be hard to navigate which supplements, vitamins, and nutrients are the best when preparing your body for pregnancy, but one to get to know is folic acid. It’s recommended that you take at least 400 mcg of folic acid every day in the weeks before you conceive and during your 1st trimester. It can help to prevent defects in the neural tube as your baby grows and develops. 

    Coming to grips with the vitamins and supplements you can take during pregnancy can be tough. This is why it’s always a good idea to speak to your doctor before starting to take anything new. One vitamin that can be helpful as you prepare to become pregnant is vitamin A. It can help to keep your immune system strong. However, too much vitamin A during pregnancy can harm your unborn baby. And while you can find vitamin A in some of the places you might expect, such as food like cheese, eggs, and yogurt, it can also be found in your favorite skin care (aka retinol, which you need to stop using when you’re trying to conceive and while pregnant). If you’re ever confused or need nutritional guidance before or during pregnancy, the best thing to do is reach out to your health care provider. 

    5. Steer clear of toxins 

    When you’re trying to conceive and once you’re pregnant, it can be helpful to know what not to do as well as what’s helpful. Before getting pregnant, you should try to eliminate harmful substances. This can include recreational drugs, alcohol, and smoking

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    Flo can help you work out when you're most fertile

    6. Inquire about your family’s medical history 

    You may be well informed on your medical history, but talking to family members may also give you additional insight. If it’s possible, talk to both your parents, your partner’s parents, and other family members about possible genetic diseases or chronic illnesses that have appeared in your ancestry. 

    You might want to speak to your family about whether they’ve ever experienced fertility issues and how long it took them to get pregnant. It might feel like a personal conversation, but it may give you insight into your conception journey. 

    7. Get vaccinated 

    During your pre-conception appointment, your doctor may ask you if you’re up to date on your vaccinations. If you’re unsure about this, you can either speak to a family member or your doctor to establish if you have records of vaccines on your health record. You can also opt for additional vaccines to protect against the flu and certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). 

    Your health care provider may recommend that you have these vaccinations before you’re pregnant, as some aren’t recommended while you’re expecting. These include: 

    8. Go to the dentist 

    Did you know you’re at higher risk for gum disease when pregnant? Your increased hormone levels can impact the way your body reacts to plaque, which can lead to bleeding and swollen gums (sometimes referred to as gingivitis). 

    Dental health can be considered to be part of your overall health, so as you book an appointment with your doctor, you can also put “going to the dentist” on your pregnancy checklist. It’s important to stay on top of your dental hygiene by having frequent checkups. Keep good dental hygiene habits by brushing twice a day and flossing, and speak to your dental provider if you notice persistent pain or bleeding from your gums

    9. Maintain a balanced and nutritious diet 

    Alongside investigating new vitamins and nutrients that may help you during pregnancy, it can be a great idea to look at your diet when you’re trying to conceive and ensure you’re eating healthy and balanced meals. This is a beneficial step in self-care. Get plenty of protein, iron, calcium, and folic acid by eating lots of fruits, nuts, veggies, leafy greens, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. 

    Before trying to conceive, it can also be a good idea to get your head around any dietary changes you may need to make. If you eat a lot of seafood, then it’s important to understand which types of seafood are safe to eat and which ones to avoid. Some fish contain mercury, which has been linked to congenital disabilities if consumed during pregnancy. So, steer clear of fish like swordfish and king mackerel during pre-conception to ensure your system is clear when you conceive. 

    Once you’re pregnant, limit your fish intake, like tuna and salmon, to a couple of servings a week, but you don’t need to eliminate fish — as long as you eat it in moderation, it’s a great source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

    While you may relish a few cups of coffee to get you out of the house in the morning, you may need to cut down on this once you’re pregnant. It’s recommended that you limit your caffeine intake to 200 milligrams a day (around one 12-ounce cup of coffee). Similarly, unpasteurized dairy, undercooked meat, and eggs that are uncooked can be harmful once you’re pregnant. However, don’t worry; there are lots of safe alternatives to try, and your health care provider will be able to help you navigate through the list of pregnancy dietary guidelines

    10. Exercise regularly and stay fit 

    Moving and stretching your body every day is great for both your body and mind, and it’s little surprise that exercise is actively encouraged when you’re trying to conceive and in early pregnancy. Exercising before you get pregnant may help you prepare for pregnancy, and during pregnancy, it may help you manage early symptoms.

    If you’re already used to exercising, then it’s safe to continue to do so during pregnancy. Consider the type of exercise you want to do. Now isn’t a good time to pick up new, vigorous activities, and once you’re pregnant, you should avoid contact sports and activities that could make you fall. Before starting any new type of exercise, you should speak to your doctor, and if you’re worried about your current regime, then get their opinion. 

    11. Do your Kegels 

    Doing pelvic floor exercises like Kegels can also help prepare your body for pregnancy and delivery. You might have heard about pelvic floor exercises but not be sure what they are. Your pelvic floor is made up of the muscles that surround and support the organs in your pelvis (including your bladder, bowels, and uterus).

    You don’t need a personal trainer to help you do your Kegels. To contract them, all you need to do is squeeze your bum as if you’re trying to stop yourself from pooping and then squeeze your vagina as if you’re stopping yourself from peeing. You can find gentle pelvic floor exercises online, and the beauty is that you can do them anywhere, and nobody will even know.

    12. Take care of your mental health and make sure to rest and manage stress

    Taking care of your mental health is just as important as looking after your physical health. Preparing to get pregnant can be exciting, but it can also be quite overwhelming. It’s a major life change, after all. You might find that yoga, meditation, or journaling help you to manage stress. Similarly, getting enough sleep can help lower your stress levels. 

    If you or your partner are worried about conceiving, then try to be there for one another. You’re a team throughout this process. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, then it may be a good idea to speak to a mental health professional. Similarly, if you’re currently taking medication for your mental health, it’s important to consult a physician before making any changes to your dosage. 

    13. Make a plan and take your benefits into consideration 

    When planning to start a family, it’s a good idea to look into the health and parental benefits available through your job. For many employers in the United States, you need to have worked with them for at least 12 months to qualify for maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires businesses with 50 or more employees to provide 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected parental leave. However, this can differ depending on the country you live in and the company you work for. It’s best to speak to your human resources department to find out the exact details of the medical and parental leave that may be available to you. 

    It may seem like a long way away, but you might also want to consider if your work life will change once your baby is born. Would you like to go down to part-time or reduced hours? Is this available at your place of work? Is your commute doable, and do other parents at your company feel supported? You don’t need to have answers to these questions right away, but they may be something to keep in mind. 

    14. Plan your budget 

    Pregnancy, parental leave, and having a baby can change your financial situation. There’s little getting around the fact that while babies are small, they can be expensive. You don’t need to break out the calculator and spreadsheet before you’ve conceived, but factoring in some of the known medical costs as well as larger purchases you might like may give you some peace of mind. Check your medical insurance to find out which hospitals or groups are covered or preferred so you can minimize out-of-pocket costs.

    It’s also crucial to remember that while you’ll likely be bombarded with a plethora of “essential” items for your newborn, you don’t need to buy all of the items for your baby brand new. Relying on friends and family members who have had babies for guidance on the items you’ll use can be priceless. 

    FAQs

    What not to do before trying to get pregnant?

    When you’re trying to figure out what not to do before getting pregnant, your best resource will be your health care provider. They will be able to guide you on any dietary changes you may want to make when you become pregnant. Before you conceive, it’s a good idea to cut out toxins like smoking, recreational drugs, and alcohol.

    What should a man do before trying to conceive?

    Men should look after their health and the health of their sperm before trying to get pregnant. To look after their sperm health, they should eat a healthy diet, try to keep their stress levels low, and avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking recreational drugs.

    Is it harder to get pregnant on the first try?

    Getting pregnant can take time, and there’s no one-size-fits-all experience of conception. Just over a third of couples conceive within the first month of trying, and factors like age and overall health can impact your chances of conceiving, so it varies from person to person. Don’t lose hope if it takes a few months to get pregnant. If you’re under the age of 35 and it’s taken over 12 months or over the age of 35 and it’s been more than six months to conceive, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor. They can help guide you on the next steps to take.

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    History of updates

    Current version (16 October 2023)

    Medically reviewed by Dr. Jenna Flanagan, Academic generalist obstetrician and gynecologist, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Massachusetts, US
    Written by Olivia Cassano

    Published (02 May 2019)

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