Pregnancy brings about a long list of planning to the forefront. From converting that messy office to a cozy nursery, to figuring out what to add in that baby registry, to childproofing the house and finally picking out a name — it never ends!
But before you take the plunge into parenthood, it's important to ensure the health and well-being of you and your baby before conception. Not only will you feel more physically and emotionally primed for the months ahead, but you'll also be well prepared if pregnancy unexpectedly sneaks up on you.
Take a pregnancy vitamin
Vitamins might be gross and chalky-tasting, but they're effective supplements for your diet. While pregnancy-specific vitamins are ideal, folic acid is a B-vitamin highly recommended for women who plan to become pregnant, already are pregnant or are breast-feeding.
According to the March of Dimes, taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy can prevent birth defects of the brain and spine called "neural tube defects" or NTDs up to 70 percent. Studies show it also prevents heart and birth defects like cleft lip and palate. Talk to your doctor about the right amount to take as most women don't need more than 1,000 micrograms each day, but some may require more.
There's no need to curb your fitness routine in preparation for conception. In fact, physical therapist Julie Wiebe suggests women benefit from moderate exercise before conception and during pregnancy, resulting in less aches, pains, controlled weight gain, easier delivery and a calmer, more alert baby. As always, though, keep everything in moderation as recent reports state excessive exercise can disrupt ovulation.
We might all hate needles, but it's worth the pinch in the long-run for both you and baby. Rubella — or German measles — can be extremely harmful to the fetus if contracted during pregnancy, so make sure your vaccines are up to date. Since the varicella zoster virus or "chicken pox" is also risky for a developing baby, it's important to receive appropriate vaccines to prevent potential complications during pregnancy. To help you break it all down, the CDC provides a complete immunization schedule for women of childbearing age.
Schedule dental checkups
By now we know to take care of our baby's oral health, but it's equally essential as part of preconception planning to do the same for ourselves. When our hormones fluctuate, especially during pregnancy, we become more prone to gum disease. In a study from the National Institute of Health, women with gum disease during pregnancy are at a greater risk of developing pre-eclampsia, a potentially risky condition that affects both mother and baby. Because of this, see your dentist for preventive checkups, including dental X-rays, prior to conception.
Know your cycle
There are a few days every month that a woman can get pregnant. While it might seem like a narrow window of time and feel super stressful, it's rather easy to calculate. To figure out ovulation, count back 14 days from the start of your last period. Meaning, if your period is regular and comes every 28 days, then you ovulate roughly on the 14th day of your monthly cycle.
If your body's cycle fluctuates, you can manage by using the average length between periods to calculate ovulation, but don't rely on that one day as the day, Womanistas. If your cycle is irregular, see your doctor to help you plan.
Nurture your relationship
To help you feel emotionally primed for the possibility of a baby, talk it over with your partner — after all, they have a role in conception too! Between making lifestyle changes and maintaining their own health, it's important to have a functional and communicative relationship. Sex is easy, but having a baby can be hard for strained couples. Whether it's infidelity, finances, or even a struggle like too much drinking, Melissa Risso, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, shares having a baby to solve marital issues is never the answer.
"A baby may allow some couples to learn how to work together, communicate better and agree upon many required skills and future plans," Risso says. "[But] if a relationship does not have key foundational qualities such as trust, respect, and communication — then quite often, a baby enhances problems more."
If you're planning for a baby, be sure to check out the Womanista Approved list of our favorite diaper bags -- we have detailed product information, where to buy and why they are our editors' favorites!