So, you’re thinking about growing your family in the near future? Congratulations! Whether you will be trying for your first or your eighth, this is such an exciting time!
It’s commonly known that there are certain foods, activities, and lifestyle choices you should avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding as they could directly affect your baby. But, what about before you even start trying to conceive (TTC)? It may sound surprising, but there are also certain actions you should take well before your first month of trying.
We’re going to discuss the 10 most important steps you should take ahead of time. Doing so will help you optimize baby’s health as well as your own wellbeing, fertility, and financial preparedness.
1. Get Off Birth Control
Did you know that it can take several cycles for your body and hormones to re-set and normalize after stopping birth control? While it is perfectly possible to conceive in your first cycle off birth control, many women are surprised at how long it takes for their natural cycles to re-calibrate.
Most experts suggest getting off birth control at least three months before TTC, if possible. If you do not want to get pregnant in the meantime, just make sure to utilize other contraception methods such as condoms. Doing so will give your body the time it needs to re-engage its natural hormones and begin ovulating regularly again.
2. Start Taking a Prenatal Vitamin
Many women associate prenatal vitamins with pregnancy and breastfeeding, but they are also known to help improve egg health. Egg quality is crucial for fertility, chances of conception, and baby’s health, so it is important to focus on living a healthy lifestyle and giving your body the nutrients it needs even before TTC.
I remember being shocked when I first learned that it takes 90 days for an egg to mature prior to ovulation. It was a bit startling to realize that my lifestyle from three months ago still had an effect on the eggs I currently have. With this in mind, experts recommend that you begin taking your prenatal vitamins at least three months before TTC.
There are many options when it comes to prenatal vitamins. So many, in fact, that it can be pretty overwhelming when you’re trying to choose. How do you know which vitamins and minerals are most important? The American Pregnancy Association (APA) has helped simplify this process by sharing a table of Essential Vitamins and Minerals, which specifies the daily recommended amounts, why mom and baby need them, and the best food sources for them.
You will want to make sure that between your prenatal vitamin and your diet, you are getting the daily recommended amounts of these vitamins and minerals. If you want to be on the safe side, you can just make sure your prenatal vitamin has them covered.
If you’re looking for a prenatal vitamin that offers a great mix of nutrients, quality, and cost, check out Nature Made Prenatal Multivitamins. They cover the recommended daily amounts (with the exception of calcium, which you can make sure to get from your diet), comes highly rated, and is a great value considering the quality and cost.
3. Get to (and Maintain) a Healthy Weight
Being at a healthy weight can do wonders for your fertility! For Mom, it can help regulate hormones and cycles as well as egg quality. You should also keep in mind that being overweight isn’t the only culprit; being underweight can cause fertility issues as well such as issues with ovulation. For Dad, being at a healthy weight can help improve testosterone levels and sperm quality.
Before TTC, you should do your very best to get to and maintain a healthy weight. The best way to do this is via good old fashioned exercise and a healthy, balanced diet. If you’re looking for a great way to monitor your weight and increase your motivation to reach your weight loss goals, I highly recommend the GreaterGoods Smart Scale. This scale helps tremendously with reaching weight loss goals because it visualizes your progress for you! It syncs to an app where you can track your weight, body mass index (BMI), body fat, lean mass, water weight, and bone mass.
Speaking of BMI… If you’re unsure what the healthy weight range is for you, you can start by checking this metric. Your BMI is a generalized measure of your body fat based on your height and weight. I say “generalized” because this number could be misleading depending on your muscle content (since muscle is thought to weigh more than fat).
For example, an athlete and couch potato who are the same height and weight would technically have the same BMI, but the athlete is likely healthier and has lower body fat. Bottom line, BMI is a great place to start to get an idea of whether or not you are at a healthy weight, but the calculation’s limitations should be considered as well.
You can enter your height and weight in the Adult BMI Calculator shown below from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After clicking “Calculate,” your BMI will be displayed along with an explanation of your results. It also provides a summary of the BMI ranges that are considered underweight, normal, overweight, and obese as well as additional resources on how to understand your BMI results.
The main headline is that you are generally considered to be at a healthy weight if you have a BMI of anywhere between 18.5 – 24.9. If you are under or over that, make sure to review the BMI calculation limitations and then consider speaking with your healthcare provider regarding any needed changes to your diet and/or exercise habits.
4. Cut Down on (or Eliminate) Toxins
Now is the time to start minimizing your exposure to toxins! Doing so can improve your respective egg and sperm quality as well as your fertility and chances for conception. If you smoke or use recreational drugs, now is the time to stop!
You should also start cutting back on alcohol and do your best to limit your exposure to environmental toxins such as chemicals and air pollutants. Also, think about the products you use and the activities you engage in. Read labels and warnings, do some research regarding any potential adverse effects, and reach out to your doctor if you have any questions about the safety of a particular product or activity.
Want to know what you SHOULD put in your body? Drink lots of water! Staying hydrated is wonderful for organ function and general health. If you struggle with drinking enough water, I highly recommend getting a smart water bottle to track your water intake and to motivate you to increase your intake!
I personally use and strongly recommend the Hidrate Spark 3 Smart Water Bottle for this. I used to really struggle with drinking enough water each day, and this water bottle helped me completely transform my water-drinking habits and greatly increase my daily water intake in a fun way! The sensor automatically tracks and records your water intake, and the blinking light helps you remember to drink water throughout the day. The linked app syncs your water intake data to help you track your progress in real time, and you can even use the app to compare your water intake with family members and friends who also have a Hidrate Spark water bottle. This introduces some friendly competition to motivate you even more!
5. Start Tracking Your Cycles and Ovulation
Just like studying for a test, it’s a great idea to start learning about and understanding your body and cycle before TTC. It can take several months to start picking up on patterns your body exhibits during specific parts of your cycle, so the sooner you start, the better! One of the most helpful things you can do to help optimize your chances of conception each month is to estimate your fertile window. Your fertile window is the few days each month you are most fertile and can be very easy to accidentally miss it if you are not in tune with your specific cycle.
According to experts, the fertile window is comprised of the five days prior to ovulation and the day of ovulation itself. With such a small window to aim for each month, it is very helpful to gather as much information as possible that could provide hints of when you may be ovulating. You can then adjust the timing of intercourse to align with your fertile window. Doing so will help optimize your chances of becoming pregnant!
I have a whole separate post on ovulation tracking basics (calendar method and cervical mucus method) to help guide you through this process!
6. Get Your Health Check-up's
Hopefully you have already been staying on top of your annual physicals and semi-annual dentist visits, but if not, start now! Before TTC, you will want to make sure both your general health and dental health are under control. This goes for both the future mom and future dad! Attending your regular check-up’s with your healthcare providers is a great way to do this and can help put you one step ahead when you start TTC.
Regarding your general health, having your provider check your vitals, discuss your family medical history, and perform bloodwork to screen for potential health issues could be extremely helpful. Getting a check-up in these areas can help you identify any health problems or concerns and give you time to address them before TTC. This is also the perfect time to inquire about any medications you are currently taking or plan to start taking and their safety during TTC and pregnancy. You can even ask them any questions you have about your weight or BMI (discussed above).
Regarding your dental health, many are surprised to learn of its importance while TTC. Research has shown that the health of both the man and woman’s teeth and gums can impact the amount of time it takes them to get pregnant. Additionally, your chances of having issues with oral health naturally increase during pregnancy. (That doesn’t seem fair!) Furthermore, studies have shown that having unhealthy teeth and gums during pregnancy can affect your baby (a link has been found between gum disease and preterm birth).
So, it is well worth putting in the extra effort to get your dental health under control before TTC! Start implementing healthy dental habits such as brushing at least twice per day and flossing once per day. If flossing every day sounds unreasonable or like one step short of torture, just floss as much as you can! Every little bit helps.
7. Learn Your Family History with Fertility and Pregnancy
Experts have found that some fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum issues and complications can be hereditary. Some examples include preeclampsia, premature labor, and depression. Before TTC, it is a great idea to talk to the women in your family (mom, grandmother, sister, etc.) regarding any challenges they faced while TTC or during pregnancy, birth, or postpartum. If they are willing to share, it could give you some insight into any issues or complications you may be predisposed to.
Just keep in mind that every woman is different, and not all issues have been found to be hereditary. You are not guaranteed to have the same TTC journey, pregnancy, birth, or postpartum experience as your female family members. This exercise should simply be used to educate yourself on your family history so that you can discuss it further with your healthcare provider.
Posing these questions to your family members can be tricky if you are not ready to share your TTC plans with them just yet. You can still sneak in these questions without giving anything away!
For example, you can mention that your coworker is experiencing fertility issues or is having a particular issue during pregnancy such as preeclampsia. This can then lead to you asking if they are familiar with or have experienced anything like that themselves. Just be careful not to pry if you get the vibe they would prefer not to discuss their personal experiences.
8. Create and/or Update Your Budget
Babies are expensive! Sometimes more expensive than you may have thought. With diapers, nursery furniture, stroller, car seat, health insurance, toys, etc., those dollar signs can add up quickly! You will definitely want to take a look at your financials and start building baby expenses into your budget. Take this as an opportunity to also get your personal financials in order in general. Get a handle on your debt by coming up with a plan to pay it off. Sell items you no longer use or need, and start saving!
Being proactive with identifying what costs are coming your way and how you will save for them will do wonders for getting your family financially prepared. Having a baby is a huge life adjustment, so preparing ahead of time can only help your stress levels once baby is born. We want more time, attention, and energy available for enjoying baby and less time stressing about finances!
I will be doing a separate post in the future on how to budget for a baby and the main costs to consider, so stay tuned! In the meantime, I would recommend checking out BabyCenter’s First-Year Baby Costs Calculator. It specifies some key cost categories to consider and helps you estimate the average costs that would be relevant for your family.
9. Consider Changes to Health Insurance and Benefits
During the exciting time of having TTC on the horizon, something as boring as health insurance is probably the last thing on your mind. However, researching impacts to your health insurance and benefits before TTC is so important. It can save you thousands of dollars!
Every person’s health insurance options and preferences are different, so I am not going to attempt to generalize this step. What I can do, however, is share an example. If you are relatively young and healthy and don’t require many doctor appointments, procedures, or medications, a high-deductible health insurance plan may typically be the best and most cost-effective choice for you prior to becoming pregnant.
However, that will drastically change during pregnancy due to all of the prenatal appointments, ultrasounds, testing, and procedures that can occur during those 40 weeks. Not to mention if any fertility treatments are needed or if there are any health issues or complications during the postpartum period. With this in mind, it could cost you a fortune if you were on a high-deductible health insurance plan while TTC or during pregnancy or postpartum.
What makes things tricky is you can typically only make adjustments to your health insurance selection during an annual open enrollment period. Unfortunately, becoming pregnant doesn’t usually allow you to adjust your health insurance outside of this open enrollment period. This means that, depending on the timing, you may need to adjust your health insurance even several months before TTC to save yourself the extra money.
If you don’t plan accordingly and adjust your insurance in time, you could be stuck paying way more on healthcare during TTC or pregnancy than you initially anticipated. For the sake of your bank account, make sure to research your options for healthcare and benefits well in advance!
10. Embrace Your Current Family Dynamic
I saved the most sentimental one for last. While you are likely very excited and eager for the upcoming addition to your family, make sure to take some time to soak up your life as it is. Whether you are currently a family of one or a family of ten, focus on your time together as the family that you are now. Cook together, have a game night, have a movie marathon, take a family photo – however you enjoy spending time together!
Enjoy each detail of life as it is now because even though life is about to change for the better, it will never go back to being like it is right now. Just like all of life’s stages (childhood, college, marriage, etc.), it’s always nice to be thrilled about changes on the horizon while still enjoying and embracing the stage you’re in now. You will look back on this period with fondness, nostalgia, and appreciation, so soak it all in!
It can be easy to mistakenly think life is business as usual until you are actually ready to start TTC or that there’s not much to do until that time comes. However, there are so many things you can be doing now to improve your health, wellbeing, fertility, and financial preparedness before TTC. Doing so in a healthy way is bound to help simplify your TTC journey and make it more enjoyable.
It’s important to note that this is not an all or nothing exercise. If you aren’t able to complete all of the steps we discussed, focus on the ones you can. Similarly, if you are less than three months away from starting TTC or even if you’re already TTC, it’s never too late to start! Any improvements you can make to your physical, financial, and mental preparedness prior to conception will help. Every little bit counts!
I would love to hear about your experiences with preparing for TTC! If you have any questions or additional insights, please share them via the comment box below.
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