Getting pregnant seems like it should come naturally, after all, if it didn’t, there wouldn’t be much need for contraceptives! So what’s involved when planning a pregnancy?
If you’re considering becoming pregnant, it’s important to consider your health and the health of your partner. Start planning for pregnancy. Ideally, you should give yourself three months or longer to prepare yourself for becoming pregnant. During this time, you should work to minimise your bad habits and improve your health as much as possible.
Planning for Pregnancy
Your partner should also try to be as healthy as possible when you are planning for pregnancy. Sperm develop over a course of about three months, and you want them as active as they can be. Deciding to become pregnant is one of the biggest decisions of your life, and a little preparation will give your baby a great start.
Every day babies are born with health problems that can be avoided simply by staying fit and getting good nutrition. Boosting your nutrition before becoming pregnant gives you a chance to build up a store of nutrients. You don’t a lot of extra calories while you’re pregnant, but should be extra aware of the nutrition in the food you eat. You should start taking folic acid before you get pregnant and continue taking it until at least your 12th week of pregnancy in order to prevent neural tube disorders such as spina bifida.
How to Improve Your Diet
Fresh fruits and vegetables are filled with vitamins, minerals, and fibre while being low in calories. Try to get at least 5 servings a day. Consider eating fruits and vegetables raw or lightly cooked, as overcooking depletes certain nutrients, especially vitamin C.
The bulk of your diet should consist of whole grains, potatoes, and other starchy, high-fibre foods. They are filling and high in nutrients without adding a lot of calories.
Oily fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which support healthy brain and eye development, and vitamin D, which help your body absorb and use calcium. Be sure to get plenty of calcium. If you don’t have enough, your body will pull it from your bones to support your baby. Dairy foods are high in calcium, but so are leafy green vegetables.
Work to rein in your sweet tooth. Sugar is devoid of nutrients, but high in calories.
Cut back on salt and fat.
Vitamin A is important, but too much can cause birth defects, so avoid liver and liver products as liver is especially high in the vitamin.
Avoid unpasteurised cheese, raw or undercooked meat, and raw or undercooked eggs, as these foods may contain listeria, salmonella, or other dangerous bacteria.
The bulk of your diet should consist of unprocessed foods, as processed foods often contain high amounts of sugar, salt, and fat.
A pre-conception vitamin tablet should be taken daily if your diet is deficient in vitamins and minerals. For women, supplements such as Pregnacare Conception or Seven Seas Trying For A Baby vitamins are ideal. For men, Wellman Conception is the perfect daily pre-conception vitamin.
Exercise is an important consideration when planning a pregnancy. Being in good physical condition before becoming pregnant will help keep your energy levels up during your pregnancy and will help you avoid gaining too much weight. Exercise during pregnancy will help improve your muscle tone and posture, which can help make pregnancy, labour, and delivery easier.
Just be careful not to overdo it, though. Early in your pregnancy, you may be more tired. Toward the end of your pregnancy, your body starts producing hormones that prepare your body for delivery. These hormones cause your ligaments to loosen and you may be more vulnerable to pulled muscles.
Some of the best exercises during pregnancy are walking swimming and dancing. Yoga is good, but be sure to avoid poses that cause discomfort. As the baby grows, you’ll also want to avoid poses that involve lying on your back. Sports such as horseback riding or skiing should be avoided. If you find yourself breathless, your baby is getting less oxygen.
Before becoming pregnant, talk to your doctor about making sure you are up to date on immunizations. You may need boosters of some vaccines, especially rubella. Rubella, also known as German measles, can cause miscarriage or birth defects. If you need this vaccine, you should get it at least three months before becoming pregnant to ensure you have time to develop sufficient antibodies.
Alcohol, Tobacco, Medications, Drugs
If you are thinking of becoming pregnant and are a smoker, the most important thing you need to do is quit. Smoking can triple your chances of having trouble conceiving and can increase your risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, or birth defects. Smoking deprives your baby of oxygen and are more like to be premature. Even full term babies of smokers are more likely to have a low birth weight, which can increase susceptibility to illness. Research shows smoking to be one of the biggest risk factors in cot death.
Enjoying an occasional drink is unlikely to harm your baby, though heavy drinking can increase risk. No one really knows how much alcohol is safe, so many feel it is safest to avoid drinking entirely during pregnancy. If you do drink alcohol, drink no more than two units once or twice a week or less. If you swap to non-alcoholic drinks, you are advised to take soft drinks in moderation too. Water is the best option. Or Milk, which has been linked to improved fertility.
Most medications can pass through the placenta to your baby’s bloodstream. Some medications, including many antibiotics, are safe to use while pregnant, but don’t take any medication without talking to your doctor. If you have used hormonal contraceptives, you should stop using them three months before trying to conceive. Paracetamol and medicines for indigestion are generally safe. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or midwife early in your pregnancy, that way you already know what is safe to use before you need them.
Street drugs should always be avoided, especially during pregnancy. Cocaine causes your baby’s oxygen supply to drop. Mothers who have a drug addiction may give birth to babies who are addicted.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that is normally quite harmless, except when it is passed to an unborn baby. In unborn babies, toxoplasmosis can significant damage to many organs, especially the brain and eyes. The parasite is most commonly found in cat feces, but can also be found in raw and undercooked meat. If you have a cat, you don’t have to give it up, simply follow some common sense precautions.
Wear gloves when cleaning the litter box and when working in the garden and wash your hands thoroughly immediately afterward.
Be sure your meat is cooked thoroughly, preferably using a meat thermometer.
Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat.
Some of the earliest signs of pregnancy include:
- Missed or very light period
- Morning sickness, though you may feel ill any time of the day. Some women find bland foods, such as crackers, helps. Others swear by swear by lemon drops or other sour candy. Ginger is also a common nausea remedy.
- Sudden cravings, which could include foods you previously didn’t care for.
- Sudden aversions, which could include foods or smells that you previously liked.
- Breast tenderness
- Frequent need to urinate
- Metallic or odd taste, which may affect the way foods taste
- Fatigue or dizziness
- Clear or white odourless vaginal discharge. If you have discharge that smells, we have a test that can help you identify the cause.
When you become pregnant, or think you might be pregnant, schedule an appointment with your doctor to get prenatal care early. Take a pregnancy test before your visit if you want to confirm for yourself that you are expecting a baby.
Length of Pregnancy
The average pregnancy lasts about 266 days, or 40 weeks, from the day the egg is fertilised. However, pinpointing the exact date of conception can be difficult, so pregnancy is often measured from the first day of the last period.
Things you should know when planning a pregnancy:
- Your baby is most vulnerable during the first weeks of pregnancy, before some women are even aware they are pregnant. This is why it is so important to prepare your body and yourself well before conceiving.
- You can expect to feel your baby move between weeks 16 and 22.
- After week 24, the chances of survival increase for a baby born prematurely.
- In the last 10 weeks or so of pregnancy, the baby gains weight rapidly, up to 25 grams a day.
During pregnancy, it is important to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, as well as to avoid smoking and alcohol consumption. It is also recommended to start taking prenatal vitamins before becoming pregnant to ensure that you are getting all the necessary nutrients for a healthy pregnancy.
Regular check-ups with a healthcare provider are essential throughout pregnancy to monitor the baby’s growth and development, as well as to identify any potential complications early on.
As the pregnancy progresses, the mother may experience physical discomforts such as back pain, swelling, and fatigue. It is important to listen to your body and rest when needed, as well as to engage in light exercise to help alleviate discomforts.
Childbirth can occur naturally or may require medical assistance depending on the health of the mother and baby. It is important to create a birth plan and discuss preferences with your healthcare provider.
Overall, pregnancy is a unique and transformative experience that requires preparation, care, and attention to ensure the well-being of both the mother and baby.
Photo Credit: Anthony Cunningham for Zoom Baby
This post first appeared in 2015. It was last updated in June 2023.