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Twenty things you should do before you try to get pregnant

You and your partner have decided to take the plunge into parenthood. But wait just one second — or a month or two at least! To give yourself the best chance for a healthy pregnancy and a healthier baby, there are a few important things you need to do before you head down the road to conception. Our list will help you get your life and body into baby-making shape.
• Fuel up on folic acid
• Just say no to partying
• Give that cup of joe the heave-ho
• Get your weight in check
• Stock your fridge with healthy foods
• Create and follow an exercise program
• See your dentist
• Get in touch with your medical roots
• Schedule a preconception visit
• Figure out when you ovulate
• Call your health insurance company
• Make an appointment with a financial advisor
• Get in touch with your mental health
• Avoid infections
• Eliminate environmental dangers
• Think your decision through
• Tell a friend
• Buy something sexy
• Toss your birth control
• Take a (safe) ride on the wild side

Fuel up on folic acid
Even if you do manage to eat a balanced diet, it can be difficult to get all the nutrients you need from food alone — and there's one in particular you don't want to skimp on at this point. By taking 400 micrograms of folic acid a day for at least one month before you start trying and during your first trimester, you can cut your chances of having a baby with neural tube defects such as spina bifida by up to 70 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. You can buy folic acid supplements in the drugstore or you can just take a prenatal or regular multivitamin. If you do take a multivitamin, make sure it doesn't contain more than the recommended daily allowance of 770 mcg RAE(2,565 IU) of vitamin A unless it's all in a form called beta-carotene (getting too much of a certain kind of vitamin A can cause birth defects). If you're unsure what to take, ask your healthcare provider to recommend a supplement for you.

Just say no to partying
If you smoke or take drugs, now's the time to stop, because some drugs can stay in your system after their effects have worn off. Numerous studies have shown that smoking and taking drugs can lead to miscarriages, premature birth, and low-birthweight babies. Plus, research suggests that smoking can affect your fertility and lower your partner's sperm count. In fact, studies have shown that even secondhand smoke may affect your chances of getting pregnant. And experts recommend that women avoid alcohol during pregnancy, so it's a good idea to cut back when you start trying and to abstain during the last two weeks of your cycle in case you've conceived.

Give that cup of joe the heave-ho
Research shows that too much caffeine can reduce your ability to absorb iron (which you'll need plenty of for pregnancy) and increase your risk for stillbirth — so start weaning yourself off of coffee, tea, and colas or switch to decaf. You might want to start by switching to a half decaf, half caffeinated drink because going cold turkey may cause nasty headaches. If you're a real java junkie, try cutting back to a cup a day — most experts think that amount is safe. Once you've acclimated to life with little or no caffeine, you may find steamed milk with a shot of flavored syrup a nice coffee substitute — and the calcium will do your body good.
Get your weight in check
If you're a healthy weight, you'll likely have an easier time conceiving. Studies show that women whose body mass index (BMI) is below 20 or above 30 have a harder time getting pregnant, so it's a good idea to try to get yourself into the 20 to 30 range before you start trying. Click here to figure out your BMI. If you're not in a healthy range, losing or gaining weight may give you the boost you need to conceive. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best way to achieve your weight goals.

Stock your fridge with healthy foods
You're not eating for two yet, but you should start making nutritious food choices now so your body will be stocked up with the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy. Try to get at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day as well as plenty of whole grains and foods that are high in calcium, like milk, calcium-fortified orange juice, and yogurt. If you're a big fan of fish, start watching your intake. Although fish is an excellent source of protein, certain kinds, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, tend to contain too much methyl mercury, which can be harmful to your baby's growing brain in high doses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises pregnant women to steer clear of these fish and to have no more than 12 ounces (the equivalent of about two servings) of other cooked fish a week, so it's not a bad idea to start following this advice now.

Create and follow an exercise program
Start and stick to a fitness plan now, and you'll be rewarded with a healthy body that's fit for pregnancy. Plus, working up a little sweat is a great way to relieve the stress that can get in the way of getting pregnant. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, a healthy exercise program includes 20 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity, such as walking or cycling, three to five days a week; muscle strengthening, such as weight training, two to three days a week; and exercise to increase flexibility, such as daily stretching, or yoga, two to three days a week. And once you're pregnant, remember that it's okay — and even recommended — that you continue exercising.

If your idea of working out is clicking the buttons on the TV remote, you'll need to ease into an exercise routine. Start with something tame, like walking ten to 20 minutes a day. Or add more activity into your daily routine by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking your car a few blocks away from work.
See your dentist
When you're getting yourself into baby-making shape, don't forget about your oral health. Mounting evidence suggests that periodontal disease — a bacterial infection that affects the gums and bones supporting the teeth — can lead to premature labor and low-birthweight babies. In fact, one large study found that pregnant women with periodontal disease may be seven times more likely to have a premature baby. And another study shows an association between gum disease and an increased risk of preeclampsia — a pregnancy complication marked by high blood pressure, fluid retention, and protein in the urine.

To make matters worse, hormonal shifts during pregnancy can make you more susceptible to gum disease. Increased progesterone and estrogen levels can cause the gums to react differently to the bacteria in plaque, resulting in swollen, bleeding, tender gums. The good news is that women who take care of their periodontal health before they get pregnant cut down on their chances of experiencing gum complications in pregnancy. See your dentist for a checkup and cleaning now if you haven't done so in the last six months.

Get in touch with your medical roots
It's a good idea for you and your partner to find out what your family health history is, so call your parents, siblings, or other relatives to get the medical scoop. If they get suspicious and you're not ready to share your news, tell them you're trying out a new healthcare provider. The most important thing to ask about is whether anyone in your family has any genetic or chromosomal disorders like Down syndrome, sickle-cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease, or bleeding disorders. You'll also want to find out if any relatives have mental retardation or other developmental delays or were born with an anatomical birth defect, like a cardiac or neural tube defect. Your practitioner will ask you a series of questions at your preconception visit or first prenatal checkup, and your answers will help determine whether specific prenatal tests are recommended or if you or your partner should consider genetic testing before you even start trying.

Schedule a preconception visit
You don't have to have a doctor or midwife lined up yet to deliver your baby, but you should set up an appointment now with your regular healthcare provider for a preconception checkup. Your practitioner will likely ask you about your personal and family medical history, your present health, and any medications you're taking. Some drugs, like Accutane, for example (a commonly prescribed acne medication), are stored in your body's fat and can linger there for months. She should also discuss diet, weight, and exercise with you; recommend a prenatal vitamin; make sure you're up to date on your immunizations; test you for immunity to childhood diseases like chicken pox and rubella; and answer any questions you have. If it's been a year since you had a checkup, you can also expect to have a pelvic exam and a pap smear, and to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases if you're at risk. For more information on what to expect at a preconception visit , click here.

Figure out when you ovulate
Some women simply stop using birth control when they're ready to get pregnant and let fate decide when they'll conceive. Others take a more calculated approach by pinpointing their ovulation day. Use our ovulation calculator to get a rough estimate. If you want to be more exact, start charting your basal body temperature (BBT) and the changes in your cervical mucus. Tracking these symptoms over several months can help you figure out when you're ovulating during each cycle. To get a precise temperature reading, you'll need to check yours first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed, using a special basal thermometer (available at drugstores and at the BabyCenter Store).

Ovulation predictor kits can also help you figure out when you're ovulating by detecting hormones in your urine that signal ovulation is about to occur. These kits can be pretty pricey ($20 to $50 per cycle) and are available at drugstores and at the BabyCenter Store.

Call your health insurance company
It may be more than nine months before you have to think about a hospital bill, but you should consider the cost of having a baby now. The best place to start is with a phone call to your health insurance company. Take a close look at what kind of prenatal coverage they offer and think about switching now if you aren't satisfied. If you have a particular doctor or midwife in mind, find out if she's in your plan or how much it would cost to go out of network. Find out what your deductibles are for prenatal visits and delivery and ask what tests and procedures your insurance covers. If you have a high deductible you may want to put a little aside now so you won't be slammed with exorbitant bills when the baby arrives.

Keep in mind that without insurance, a typical vaginal delivery can cost over $6,000 and a cesarean section can cost over $10,000. And don't forget to check on coverage for the baby — neonatal intensive care can cost $2,000 to $3,000 per day. If you're one of the millions of women without health insurance, contact your local health department to see if it offers programs to help pregnant women get the coverage they need.

Make an appointment with a financial advisor
Shelling out $20 for cute designer baby booties is just the start of what you'll be spending on your little one in years to come. According to a 2002 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, families making $39,100 to $65,800 a year will spend $170,460 to raise a child from birth through age 17. Find out how much you're likely to spend with our Cost of Raising a Child Calculator. But never fear: By investing just $50 or $100 a month now, you can have a nice nest egg by the time your child heads off to college. Talk to a financial advisor about how to start saving.

Get in touch with your mental health
Women who suffer from depression are twice as likely to have problems with fertility as women who don't, according to Alice Domar, a psychologist and director of the Mind/ Body Center for Women's Health at Boston IVF (a fertility and in-vitro fertilization center). As she points out: "If someone is clinically depressed, she can barely take care of herself, much less a baby. From an evolutionary point of view, it makes sense that it's hard to get pregnant when you're depressed."

Domar suggests that all women — but especially those with a personal or family history of depression — do a mental health check before they get pregnant. If you notice signs of depression, such as a loss of interest and pleasure in things that you used to enjoy, a change in appetite, a change in sleep pattern, a loss of energy, or feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, ask your practitioner for a referral to a therapist or psychiatrist for a consultation. If medication becomes necessary, a psychiatrist can help you find an antidepressant that's safe to take while trying to conceive and during pregnancy. You may also want to try stress management techniques, such as yoga and meditation, which research suggests can also help depressed women conceive.

Avoid infections
It's important to steer clear of infections when you're trying to get pregnant, especially those that could harm your baby-to-be. You'll want to stay away from certain foods such as unpasteurized soft cheeses and other dairy products, packaged luncheon and deli meats, and raw and undercooked fish and poultry. These foods can harbor a dangerous bacteria that causes listeriosis, a food-borne illness that can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth. You should also avoid unpasteurized juices because they can contain bacteria such as salmonella or E. coli. Raw fish, especially shellfish, can contain harmful microorganisms.

You should also be sure to wash your hands frequently when preparing meals and make sure your fridge is set between 35 and 40 degrees F (2 and 4 degrees C) and your freezer at or below 0 degrees F (-18 degrees C) to keep cold foods from going bad. Finally, it's a good idea to wear gloves when digging in the garden or sandbox and to get someone else to change the litter box to avoid contracting toxoplasmosis, another infection that can be dangerous for a developing baby.

Eliminate environmental dangers
Some jobs can be hazardous to you and your unborn children. If you're routinely exposed to chemicals or radiation, you'll need to make some changes before you conceive. Also, keep in mind that some cleaning products, pesticides, solvents, and lead in drinking water from old pipes can be dangerous for a developing baby. Talk to your doctor or midwife about what your daily routine involves and see if you can come up with ways to avoid or eliminate hazards in your home and workplace.

Think your decision through
Having a child is a lifetime commitment. Before you decide to make a baby, it's important that you and your partner consider what you're in for and whether you're ready to take on this responsibility. Some of the key questions to consider are:
• Are you both equally committed to becoming parents?

• If you have religious differences, have you discussed how they will affect your child?

• Have you thought through how you'll handle childcare responsibilities and balancing work and family?

• Are you prepared to parent a special-needs child?

• Are you ready to give up sleeping in on Sundays? To line up a babysitter every single time you want to go out without the baby?

Tell a friend
While this is an incredibly exciting time, it can also be stressful and emotional. Confide in a friend (besides your partner) about the leap you're about to make. It'll be great to have a support system in place once the morning sickness and wild hormones kick in. And it's always fun to have another person to daydream with about your baby-to-be. If you're reluctant to tell someone you know personally about your decision, visit our Trying to Conceive bulletin boards, where you can share stories, advice, and support with other women trying to get pregnant.

Buy something sexy
Some experts say that if a woman is highly aroused while she's having sex, the sperm has a better chance of fertilizing her egg. Others say it makes absolutely no difference. The jury may be out, but why not set the mood for baby-making with some sexy new lingerie? Or illuminate a room with soft candlelight. Or bring home some special scented massage oils. It certainly can't hurt, and it may help eliminate that clinical feeling couples sometimes complain about when they're having sex for the purpose of pregnancy.

Toss your birth control
Once you've gotten yourself into baby-making shape, you're ready to bid adieu to birth control. For some people, ditching contraception is as easy as moving the condoms or diaphragm to the back of the dresser drawer. But going off hormonal contraception can require a bit more planning. If you've been using the Pill for example, it's a good idea to finish your current pack to avoid irregular bleeding. (It may take a few months for your cycle to return to normal, but many women are fertile the first month after they stop taking the Pill. The same holds true for the contraceptive patch and ring.) If you're using Depo-Provera, it can take up to a year after your last shot for you to start ovulating again, even if your period returns to normal sooner. (Find out what you need to know about quitting other kinds of birth control, including Norplant and IUDs.)

When you do ditch the birth control, start keeping a menstrual diary to help you keep track of your cycle. Use a regular calendar and mark when your period starts and ends, or simply circle each day you experience bleeding. This will help your practitioner determine your due date and schedule any tests you may have during your first trimester.

Take a (safe) ride on the wild side
This is it — your last "wahooo!" before pregnant-hood. Soak in the hot tub. Take one last horseback riding lesson. Ride a roller coaster. Now's your chance to throw your hands in the air and whoop it up. There's little chance you'll be doing it again anytime soon. And besides, a roller coaster is the perfect metaphor for parenthood!

Article Source:http://babycenter.com

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