Since the relationship is so long-lasting, it is to everyone’s advantage that you be as healthy as possible, both physically and psychologically, before you embark on this journey.
About half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned, so if you are actively thinking of trying to conceive a baby, both you and your baby are going to be starting off at an advantage if you take some concrete steps beforehand.
The most important thing you can do is to stop smoking. We hear a lot about the dangers during a pregnancy, but what is less well known is the impact of smoking on fertility. A 25 year old smoker is as fertile as a 35 year old nonsmoker, so if you want to get pregnant quickly, you are far more likely to do so without nicotine in your life. Alcohol is also something you want to limit, since research shows that the more alcoholic beverages you consume per week, the longer it will take you to get pregnant.
Caffeine is a bit trickier since the research is conflicting but there have been numerous reports that caffeine is linked to miscarriage. Since the amount of caffeine you drink the month before conception can be important, cutting back now is advisable. Do so slowly however, since caffeine withdrawal can be brutal.
Your body mass index (BMI-the ratio of your weight to your height) is important for your and your baby’s health as well. Being underweight or obese both pose risks to you and your baby. If your BMI is below 20 or above 30, check with your MD or see a nutritionist to learn about healthier eating habits. I know you have heard it from a million sources but this is a great time to focus on whole grains, fruits, veggies, lean sources of protein, and dairy products.
Exercise is also important since research has shown that fit women have easier pregnancies and deliveries. Don’t overdo it however, since excessive exercise can make it tougher to get pregnant. Walking, swimming, and biking are all good choices.
The March of Dimes strongly urges all women considering conception to make an appointment with their ob/gyn to have a “pre-conception” checkup. He/she will make sure that your Pap is up to date, you don’t need any vaccinations, and that none of the medications you might be taking could harm your baby. You can also be reassured about how long it might take to conceive-for most people it doesn’t happen the first month, but 85% of couples do conceive a healthy baby within a year.
Finally, take a good look at your life right now and think about your current stress level. Is this a good time for you to become a parent? If things are relatively stable, go for it. But if there is a significant crisis in your life, it might make sense for you to postpone baby-making until things calm down a bit. If you are 35 or over however, since time becomes more important, you might want to bring in reinforcements (family, friends) to take on some of your burdens.
Becoming a parent can be one of life’s ultimate highlights and challenges-being well prepared can make it even better and easier.