Most of the experts and real moms we spoke with agreed that it's important to chat with your partner about some of the biggie parenting issues -- like how you'll share childcare, working vs. staying home, religious traditions -- before you start trying. "But before you start freaking out over differing opinions on circumcision, public vs. private schools, or other things that are way down the road, remember that you can and will change your mind about a lot of these issues as you go along," say Odes and Morris. "The important thing is for couples to start talking about their priorities, expectations, and fears throughout the entire process, especially before you get pregnant."
Stop your birth control a couple of months before you plan to start trying, says Robert A. Greene, MD, co-author of Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility. This gives you a bit of time to see what your natural menstrual cycle is like -- 27 days? 32? -- so you can figure out when you're ovulating, the time of the month when you're most fertile. If you've been taking the pill for a while, your cycle could be different from what it was before you started. It can take a while for hormone levels to get back on track after you ditch the pill, but if your period's still MIA after three months, you should see your doctor.
Drinking and smoking during pregnancy? We don't need to tell you they're major don'ts. If you indulge in either, start scaling back now, says Jennifer Wider, MD, author of The New Mom's Survival Guide and medical advisor to the Society for Women's Health Research. "If you're a moderate drinker -- you have a couple of drinks on a Thursday night or over the weekend, you probably don't need to change anything, as long as you're sure you're not pregnant yet," she says. "But drinking most nights of the week or downing five cocktails in a sitting can be more of a problem." That goes for your partner, too. Excess alcohol intake has been shown to interfere with your fertility and can also lower sperm count in men. Smoking cigarettes, even socially, can affect your egg quality and your hubby's sperm -- not to mention increase your risk of birth defects, miscarriage, preterm labor, and other conditions after you become pregnant. It's estimated that up to 13 percent of fertility problems may be caused by tobacco use, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine -- and no level of smoking or exposure to smoke is safe. In fact, research shows that even women exposed to secondhand smoke have more problems getting pregnant than those who aren't. Bottom line: There's never been a better time to kick butt, and insist your partner does too.
What's more, quitting smoking or drinking cold turkey after you do become pregnant can be a shock to your system, say Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris, authors of From the Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, and Becoming a Parent. "Psychologically speaking, if you feel that pregnancy made you 'give up' all these things you loved, you can pile on some resentment right out of the gate," they say. "Quitting smoking or your multiple margarita habit is a great achievement, so start now and let it be something you're proud of, rather than pushed into."
If the Starbucks barista knows your order as soon as you step up the counter or you can't get through the workday without four cups of French roast, "do yourself a favor and cut back your caffeine intake now," says Dr. Wider. "Not only because studies show that too much caffeine can trigger miscarriage, but because you want to avoid withdrawal after you're pregnant."
FYI: Doctors are mixed about how much caffeine is safe once you are expecting. Most condone the equivalent in a small cup of java a day -- about 100 milligrams -- though some may recommend forgoing it entirely, especially in the first trimester. And don't forget to tally other common sources of caffeine, like soda, tea, energy drinks, and even certain pain medications. A 12-ounce can of soda or 8-ounce cup of green or black tea can pack anywhere from 30 to 60 milligrams of caffeine; two tablets of extra-strength Excedrin have 130 milligrams. If you're worried, start reading labels to see how much caffeine is in your diet.
Something magical is about to happen! Watch as the ovulation process occurs, and then millions of sperm swim upstream on a quest to fertilize an egg.
If you can stand to shed a few pounds, now is the time to go for it. "Not only can trimming 10 to 15 pounds from your frame make it easier for overweight women to get pregnant," says Dr. Greene, "but it will help you have a healthier pregnancy and delivery with fewer risks and complications." Working an exercise regimen into your routine now -- whether it's walking a few times a week or penciling in a Pilates class -- increases the likelihood you'll stick with it during and after pregnancy, making it easier to get your body back after baby arrives. And if you're on the skinny side, check with your doctor about whether you should bulk up a bit. Being too thin -- especially if it throws your periods out of whack -- is a known fertility meddler. The get-pregnant ideal is a body mass index (BMI) between 19 and 24.
Catch as many flicks on the big screen as you can. Once you're pregnant, sitting still in the same position for a couple of hours -- combined with having to pee constantly -- can get uncomfortable. And if you tend to fall asleep at the movies, it'll be that much harder to stay awake once pregnancy exhaustion kicks in.
You know you'll have to start socking money away for college, diapers, and all that baby stuff eventually, and once you're pregnant, you definitely should. "But even pregnancy itself can be more costly than you'd anticipate," says Katina Z. Jones, author of The Everything Get Ready for Baby Book, between all those doctor's co-pays, new maternity clothes, etc. "Even if you do a little at a time, just $20 a paycheck, you'll feel better knowing you have some type of nest egg set up before you begin trying to conceive. And if you have money left over you can always spend it on nursery furniture or other baby expenses."
"Any woman thinking about getting pregnant in the next three to six months should start taking a daily multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid," says Dr. Wider. According to the March of Dimes, getting enough of this B vitamin before and early on in pregnancy can reduce brain and spine birth defects by up to 70 percent. And the multivitamin itself is packed with other nutrients crucial for a healthy pregnancy, like iron to prevent anemia and calcium for strong teeth and bones. Pop the pill after you brush your teeth in the morning or stash a jar at work and set an e-mail reminder to take it when you first get in. If you hate swallowing pills, they come in chewable form too. Starting the habit now will make it easier to remember once you're expecting.
Bank those zzz's now, recommends Jackie Rose, co-author of The Newly Non-Drinking Girl's Guide to Pregnancy. "Sleep in with your husband on the weekends, nap whenever you can," she says. Most of us anticipate sleepless nights once baby arrives, but many women don't realize that it can be tough to get a decent night's rest during pregnancy -- when things like heartburn, getting up to pee, and adjusting to side-snoozing can keep some expectant moms tossing and turning. It may even help you get pregnant faster -- women who get too little sleep tend to have more problems ovulating regularly than those who don't, studies show.
Dr. Alexandra Sowa suggests 6 ways to boost fertility and get pregnant faster.
Some research shows that having crazy-high stress levels can delay your ability to get pregnant (by making ovulation wacky, or by interfering with an embryo's ability to implant in the uterus). If you're an uber-Type A personality to begin with, your stress may ramp up once you're pregnant and dealing with getting your home and life ready for baby. "Take an emotional gut-check now, make sure you feel calm and prepared for this next phase of your life, and figure out what helps you relax best," says Dr. Wider. "Maybe it's sipping tea and watching old episodes of Sex and the City, going out for a three-mile run, or just unloading on your best friend. Whatever it is, if it works for you now, it will help you when you're pregnant or a new mom." Don't have a go-to stress reliever? Dr. Greene recommends keeping a journal on top of your nightstand, and scribbling down 15 minutes' worth of thoughts before bed. Studies show that writing in a journal regularly can help you feel more optimistic and less worried.
If the last time you whipped out the camera was on the honeymoon, it's time to start taking more photos now -- not just of you and your hubs, but also of your house, the place you met, and anything else that reminds you of your pre-pregnancy, pre-baby existence. "This is such a magical time in your life, when you can really be all about the two of you with no one else to take care of, and one day you'll appreciate having documented it," says Jones. "Plus, your kids will love to see the photos down the road. They'll wonder 'What was life like before I was born?' and this gives you a way to show them."
Chances are you and your partner have a few local eateries you've been dying to try, so start keeping a list of your favorites, and spend your Saturday nights crossing them off. Obviously you'll still be able to dine out when you're pregnant, but meals may be a little different. For one thing, dinners just don't feel as splurgy when you can't linger over a bottle of wine. You may find some of your menu favorites off-limits -- no Caesar salad (raw eggs); swordfish (too much mercury); or unpasteurized soft cheeses, to name a few. And pregnancy issues like morning sickness, heartburn, or even weird cravings or aversions can throw your palate off-kilter. Plan on at least a few decadent dinners on the town now -- and order whatever you want without thinking twice about it!
Do you need to move for more space, a better location, or any other reason? Our advice: Do it soon. Getting settled -- ideally, somewhere you want to be for at least a couple of years -- and feeling good about your home will help you feel more prepared for pregnancy. It's nice not to have to deal with moves, renovations, lawyers, and closings once you're pregnant (no one wants to be packing at 8 months along).
On the other hand, if you're happy where live, don't feel like you have to move now that you're family-planning either -- you don't need a huge, multi-bedroom house in suburbia to raise a baby. Remember that many infants sleep in a bassinet or co-sleeper in their parents' bedroom for the first few months, and a baby won't be any happier just because he has his own nursery and playroom. You'll have plenty of time to make the big move later if you're satisfied with apartment-dwelling now.
Though there's no law that says you can't job-hunt while you're pregnant (and in fact, it's illegal not to hire someone based only on the fact that she's expecting), now's a better time to switch jobs if you're unhappy. For one thing, you need to have been working somewhere at least 12 months to qualify for FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act -- the federal law that stipulates companies of 50 or more employees must provide 12 weeks of unpaid maternity or paternity leave). But more than that, it's important to take a 10,000-foot look at your career, says Cathy Stahl, co-author of Twin Set, and ask yourself the following questions: Are your hours okay? Is there enough flexibility for childcare after baby arrives? Can you handle the commute? Do other new parents seem happy working at your company? If you find yourself answering no, you may want to look for a new gig or see if your boss is willing to work with you to tweak your job description. Perhaps you can take on smaller clients to cut back on your hours, say, or clock in from home a couple of days a week if you have a particularly hellish ride in.
And your sisters, aunts, and grandmas, if you can. Did it take them a long time to conceive? Were there any complications, like preterm labor or having a breech delivery? Certain health conditions tend to run in families, and it's a smart idea to brush up on your history and share any relevant information with your doctor. But don't worry too much. Just because it took your sister a year to get pregnant doesn't mean you'll necessarily have a hard time too. Many common fertility problems, like poor egg quality (due to age) or blocked or damaged fallopian tubes, are not hereditary, but some, like fibroids or ovarian cysts, can be. Your doctor can help you understand which, if any, family issues can affect your fertility or pregnancy so you'll be better prepared to deal with them later.
Many experts recommend booking a pre-pregnancy checkup at your ob-gyn at least three months before you plan to start trying, says Dr. Greene, especially if you don't see the doctor regularly. You'll want to make sure you're up-to-date on vaccinations, checked for STDs, tested for heart-health issues like high blood pressure and cholesterol, and make sure that any chronic conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, or thyroid problems, are in check. (It's a good idea to send your husband to visit an internist too -- most men see doctors far less regularly than women. A regular physical can help ensure he has no chronic conditions or is taking medications that may affect sperm count or cause other fertility problems.) Depending on your ethnic background, your doctor may also recommend genetic testing. This visit is a good opportunity to make sure any medications you take are safe to use while trying to conceive, and to ask your doctor anything on your mind about getting pregnant or pregnancy.
Finally, use this visit to assess your relationship with your doc and make sure he or she is someone you'll want to continue seeing once you're pregnant. Make sure your doctor takes pregnant patients. You may be surprised to learn that your gynecologist may not be an obstetrician. Does she take the time to address your questions fully and carefully, or do you get brushed off with eye-rolls or phrases like "You don't need to worry about that"? Remember, you'll be seeing a lot of this person once you're expecting, and you'll need to be able to trust her advice during one of the most important times of your life -- make sure it's someone you totally feel comfortable with.
It may seem totally unrelated to fertility, but getting your teeth and gums checked out before pregnancy is another wise move, says Dr. Greene. More and more research links oral health to a healthy pregnancy; women with unchecked gum disease are more prone to miscarriage, preterm birth, and preeclampsia. "In fact, brushing, flossing, and seeing the dentist regularly can cut your miscarriage risk by up to 70 percent," he says. Having your teeth examined now gives you time to get gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) under control and get x-rays (which should be avoided during pregnancy) if you need them. If your oral health is less than stellar, your dentist may recommend you come in for cleanings every few months.
Travel, travel, travel -- we heard this tip from virtually every expert and real mom we polled. And not just with your husband on your dream vacay (African safari, Amalfi Coast, Australia, whatever), but also with your girls -- especially ones you don't see very often or who couldn't be further from the marriage-pregnancy-baby thing. "Don't forget that you need your friends' support during pregnancy as much as your husband's," says Jones. "Having one totally carefree trip is a great way to celebrate those relationships and create memories you'll savor forever."
If you've been hiding your true hair color under those honey-blond (and totally high-maintenance) locks, now's the time to reconsider your hair hue. "You don't want to be getting touch-ups every few weeks while you're pregnant," says Dr. Wider. Though there's no conclusive research that proves hair coloring is unsafe during pregnancy, most experts recommend trying to minimize your exposure to the chemicals, especially in the first trimester when your baby's major organ growth takes place. If you're concerned, talk to your colorist about how to scale back -- perhaps you can phase into highlights, which are usually less upkeep and may be safer.
You'll grow out of those fitted tops and skinny jeans within a couple of months of pregnancy, so anything you buy now you'll get to wear only for a few months before they get packed away until after baby comes. Plus, you'll want to start stocking up on maternity clothes by your second trimester. Instead, direct your urge to splurge now on classic things like bags, shoes, and other accessories that'll fit no matter your pregnancy or postpartum stage.
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