There's a lot to do before giving birth. Here's how to pace yourself and prepare for baby.
Everything in this slideshow
Go with the Flow
Women like control. We try to conceive based on our age, our work schedule, or the seasons. But as you've figured out, your baby-to-be doesn't care about your schedule. Beth Provanzana, a Chicago mom of two, hoped to have her first child in the spring. Instead, Kate arrived in October -- just in time for a good Midwestern winter. As Beth remembers, "It bummed me out that I couldn't have that perfect June maternity leave; on the other hand, it was preparation for having kids -- you're no longer in control of everything."
Get Your Health in Order
Not to scare you, but those first few weeks of fetal development are crucial, so with luck you're still eating well since trying to conceive. "By the time you miss one period, 80 percent of organ development has happened. The heart, face, limbs -- anything likely to have a defect has formed," says Robert Greene, PhD, director of the Birth Defects Center at the University of Louisville. You're best off not smoking, not drinking, and taking a multivitamin with folic acid before trying to get pregnant. But if you did something unhealthy before you knew about the baby, don't sweat what you can't undo. Focus on cleaning up your act now to have a healthy newborn.
Call Your OB
She'll want to see you in the first trimester, often around eight weeks, to establish viability (that means listening for a heartbeat), confirm the number of fetuses (one? twins? more?), and run some time-sensitive tests. This will also give you a chance to ask questions, like the all-important "What's my due date?" You're off to the races.
Sleep and Eat
The most common symptom of early pregnancy is exhaustion. Sleep now, unapologetically. Later you might not be able to rest well because of a hiccupping baby who wants to kick open a porthole. In between naps you may find yourself muttering questions like, "Why does the stench of oatmeal make me throw up but eating a hunk of cheese as big as an apple seems like a good idea?" Cravings and morning sickness (which, name aside, lasts all day) are very real, but neither is a cause for concern unless you can't keep anything down or you crave nonfood items such as dirt or soap. In either of those cases you're dealing with a nutritional deficiency, so call your doctor right away for medical intervention.
Think About Childcare
More than any other topic, the best time to find childcare depends on where you live, and the time to begin is hard to pinpoint. Start too early in some places, and daycare centers will have no idea what their openings will be. In other (mainly urban) places, start too late and you'll get shut out. "If your family lives in an area where there is high demand for infant care and few providers, begin the search as soon as you learn you're expecting," says JoAnn Johnson, vice president of corporate operations for Learning Care Group. But in other areas, she says, it makes more sense to seek childcare a couple of months before you need it. If you're hoping a family member will swoop in to provide help, start those discussions early.
Tell Your Boss
For many women, this is the most nerve-racking task of pregnancy. Seraphim Carlson, of San Francisco, remembers being terrified about revealing her pregnancy to her new boss, but in hindsight she didn't need to worry. "She was a mom herself who was thrilled to hear I was pregnant," Carlson says. "Luckily, that's been the response of pretty much everyone I've ever had to work with."
Most women wait to tell their boss until they're in their second trimester, when the risk of miscarriage declines. Sarah Rogers, of Iowa City, Iowa, told her colleagues when she was 23 weeks along, or more than halfway through pregnancy. "I would have happily told no one until I had the baby if I could have gotten away with it," she says. If, like Rogers, you're uncomfortable broadcasting the news, then wait, but at some point everyone will notice your growing belly no matter how many untucked blouses you wear.
Buy New Clothes
It seems there are two types of women: those who love maternity clothes, and those who avoid the maternity stores until no amount of rigging can hold up their old jeans. Either way, most women don't need maternity clothes until their second trimester -- especially for a first pregnancy, when it takes your belly a long time to pop. For her first pregnancy, Provanzana waited to go shopping until she was more than five months along. "The second time, I started to wear maternity clothes right away, not because I needed them," she says. "I just loved them."
Start Your Baby Registry
By the second trimester you've probably dreamed up a color for the nursery and listened to other parents talk about strollers. Tori Binau, senior vice president of marketing at Babies "R" Us, says most women register in their sixth month, a time frame she sees as ideal. "When we see moms well into their third trimester, registering doesn't look as fun as it should be," she says. It makes sense to give yourself time to add to, change, and tweak your registry and do the shopping while you have energy.
Use your nesting instinct to set up files (for bill paying, recipes, or whatever else could use organization), clean storage areas, and put away things like old photographs. Toward the end of pregnancy you might feel too cumbersome to haul boxes from the attic, and after baby is born you might not be organized for a very long time.
Get the Car Seat In
Properly installing a car seat should be a simple task, but it isn't: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 80 percent of car safety seats are incorrectly installed. Have yours inspected before baby needs to ride home. To locate a child seat fitting station, call 1-866-SEAT-CHECK or go to seatcheck.org. Give yourself a few weeks because you might need to make an appointment.
Get Serious About a Baby Name
Some couples agree on names while they're still dating. And then there are those who still haven't settled on a name two days after the birth, like Lauren Miller, of Arlington, Virginia, who bought a baby-name book the day before her scheduled delivery. If finding a name hasn't come easily, the middle of the third trimester is the best time to sit down and hash it out. Any earlier and you might suffer weeks of baby-name strife. Any later and you might be negotiating a name in the recovery room.
Most women can safely work right through to the end of pregnancy, but check with your doctor. Some choose to work until they go into labor in order to maximize the amount of time they're able to spend with the baby; if that time pressure isn't a factor for you, it's nice to have a week or so before the birth to pull everything together.
Go on a Date
You and your honey will go out again, of course, once the baby comes, but it will be different: Some piece of you will be emotionally tethered to that little person waiting at home, wondering whether he or she is crying, missing you, licking the dog, etc. So set aside some time for the two of you before you become three.
Okay, you've gotten it all (well, much of it) done. Now it's time to have that baby! You'll do great.
Originally published in the September 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.
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