Thinking about starting a family?
If you’re reading this guide, you’ve probably been finding yourself eyeing pregnant women’s bellies with an increased sense of longing, lately. You probably daydream about having a bump like that, and about waddling around decorating a nursery, picking out names, taking birthing classes. You probably also shake yourself out of these daydreams wondering, “Am I really ready?”
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: no one is ever really ready. Deciding to have a baby is one of the greatest leaps of faith humans ever take. It changes your whole life in ways you can’t possibly understand beforehand. So do you know it’s what you want, if you don’t know what it’s like? Well, It’s a cliche, but it’s true: You just know.
Of course, from a practical standpoint, there are a few things that everyone should think about when planning for pregnancy, and that’s why we’re here. Let’s explore some of the medical, emotional, and financial considerations that can help you get your brain around pregnancy and having a baby.
What do I need to think about if I want to have a baby?
Modern humans have been having babies (and surviving childbirth with increasing success) for at least 200,000 years. Those early versions of ourselves may have managed to procreate without modern science, Facebook parenting support groups, and Snoogle pillows, but planning out your pregnancy and taking care of your body and mind — before and during your pregnancy — is the best way to ensure you’ve done all you can for your own and your future baby’s health.
Preparing your body and mind for pregnancy.
Pregnancy will be one of the greatest physical challenges you can ever expect to have as a woman, and that calls for doing a little prep work, to say the least. There’s also some mental/emotional preparation to do. Many future parents thinking about becoming pregnant don’t realise that stress can greatly affect their pregnancy plans. Stress can often be a barrier to conception, although it’s sometimes unavoidable, and not shown to have any worrying effects on the developing fetus (so … don’t worry). Hormones can often amplify your emotions, and this is especially true in pregnancy – just be aware, and make sure others around you are aware.
Preparing for pregnancy should be an exciting and fun experience for you and your baby’s father. However, you both need to be cognisant of personal fitness, stress levels, and eating habits. These factors will have an effect on both your ability to conceive successfully and the health of the growing baby inside your body. Wondering why your partner’s health matters too? It absolutely does. Your partner’s weight, as well as his food and alcohol consumption, can take a toll on the quality of his sperm. Now is a great time to adopt a new healthy lifestyle resolution and encourage each other to take care of yourselves.
Tips for getting baby-ready in mind & body:
Get in shape prior to conception. Once pregnant, your body will be carrying extra weight and nearly double your usual blood volume. You’ll also need a lot more energy to grow a baby and sustain the pregnancy. Sounds exhausting, right? It can be. Just be ready for it! It will also be much easier for you to stay active (safely) during your pregnancy if you commit to a healthy lifestyle prior to conceiving. Giving birth and the physical recovery post-birth, also tends to be (a little) easier for moms who have stayed in shape. Watch how you can expect your pregnant body to change each week with this great time-lapse video!
Say goodbye to your birth control. Going off hormonal birth control can lead to changes such as weight loss/gain, heavier menstruation, the potential return of acne (boo), and a higher sex drive (woo hoo!).
Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and recreational drugs. It’s gonna be a long year with no vino! Better start weaning off your fave California Cab-Sauv good and early. The risks of drinking alcohol during your pregnancy are no secret, but there’s also growing information that staying dry when you’re trying to conceive can be beneficial, too. If you’re a smoker, quitting can be part of your conception plan – easier said than done, but talk to your doctor about smoking cessation solutions that can help. Similarly, be honest with your doctor about any recreational drug use – your doctor can help you address the risks.
Talk to your doctor about your prescription meds. Many people think that pregnant women can’t take any medication whatsoever; this simply isn’t true. Your pre-existing conditions don’t magically disappear during pregnancy. Your doctor can help you make an informed decision about changes to your treatment, and direct you to resources like Motherisk.
Know your odds. Understand the relationship between your age and your fertility. Are you watching the fertility clock? If you’re ready to start a family you should know that about 1 in 10 couples experience fertility problems when trying to conceive and age is certainly a factor. In fact, Sam Thatcher, a reproductive endocrinologist and author of Making a Baby: Everything You Need to Know to Get Pregnant (2010) asserts that age is the most significant factor that impacts a woman’s fertility. Here’s the in-a-nutshell explanation of the relationship between your age and your fertility:
*Between 20-29 years of age: Prime time. You’re MOST fertile while in your 20’s.
*Between 30-39 years of age: Once you turn 30, your fertility starts to decline slightly, and then decline more steeply once you hit 35 years of age.
*40+ years of age: Once you turn 40 years old, you’re looking at only a 5% chance of being able to conceive without medical intervention.
Know how to time your fertility: There’s a formula to this: A woman typically ovulates (and is most fertile) about 14 days before her next period. So, that means that for the average 28-day cycle, you would ovulate about halfway through the cycle. If you have a 35-day cycle, your ovulation would occur around day 21, not day 17. Think you might find that a little tough to remember? Don’t sweat it – there’s an app for that!
Make your mental health a priority. Know the signs of peri-natal and post-partum depression and anxiety. These debilitating conditions often strike without warning, so it’s important to become familiar with the symptoms and to develop a support system of people who can watch out for you. Several antidepressants are considered safe to take in pregnancy, and many are safe for breastfeeding. If you’re at increased risk of emotional disorders, you can be followed closely throughout pregnancy to make sure you and your baby get off to a good start.
Talk to your doctor. Michele Hakakha, M.D., and author of Expecting 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Pregnancy (2011), says it’s important to connect with your doctor or midwife as early as you can to discuss your plans to become pregnant and begin making the necessary arrangements. Starting your preparation early is the best way to ensure a healthy pregnancy.
The journey through conception and pregnancy should be a happy one. It’s a time of transition in your identity, a time of transformation from individual to family unit. It’s exciting … and a little scary. Luckily, you get nine months to prepare, so read up, learn, and be curious!
Want to laugh about the awkward side of pregnancy? Jenny McCarthy will keep you giggling as you learn about everything from pregnancy sex to pregnancy flatulence in her popular book, “Belly Laughs: The Naked Truth About Pregnancy and Childbirth” (2003).
Considering an unmedicated birth? Want to explore the option of midwifery? You’ll definitely want to read “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” by Ina May Gaskin (2003).
This book takes the cake for being the most popular choice for future Dads interested in doing a little reading: “The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for the Dad’s-To-Be” (2010).
Another wonderfully insightful read that will help you understand your body better and embrace the natural side to pregnancy prep and achievement, is Toni Weschler’s “Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health” (2015).
Want to take a fun quiz to test your parenthood readiness? Try this one from WomensDay.com!
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.