How Can I Best Prepare for Pregnancy and Childbirth?
What should I do if I am planning to get pregnant?
Ideally, preparation for a holistic pregnancy and childbirth begins before you become pregnant. Your own good health helps your baby's health. And when you and the baby are healthy, you have more choices in childbirth.
Schedule a preconception counseling appointment with your current healthcare provider to discuss your pregnancy plans. This can help you identify your health strengths, as well as any family history or health problems that might affect pregnancy. Your healthcare provider will be interested to learn about your work or hobbies to help you identify whether you are at risk for developing certain viruses or infections. This appointment gives you a chance to discuss any health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, or high blood pressure, with your healthcare provider. Try to work with your provider to get any chronic health conditions under as much control as possible before you become pregnant. (Note: these issues can also be discussed during your routine "annual" exam.)
Try to achieve a normal weight for your height. (Click for a Body Mass Index chart that can help you determine if you are currently at, above, or below normal weight.)
woman jogging, smilingExercise. If you do not already have a regular exercise routine, this is the time to start. Most women recognize the physical benefits of exercise, but might not realize that exercise also helps manage stress and promotes good mental health. You may consider a variety of exercise programs, depending on your interest, including walking, running, swimming, or biking. Group classes, such as yoga, Pilates, or aerobics, are also a good choice.
To be most effective in maintaining good health, you should exercise four to five times per week, for at least 30 minutes, but if you have not exercised before, you should build up to this level gradually. For example, if you start walking, begin by walking about 10 minutes each time you go out, and then increase this by 5-10 minutes each week. A good goal is four miles four times per week. There are also specific exercises for pregnancy, including pelvic muscle exercises (sometimes called Kegel exercises), pelvic rocking, and squatting. Some books and websites that discuss these are listed under Additional Readings at the bottom of this topic.
Nutrition is very important while you are trying to become pregnant. A balanced, healthy diet should include sources of protein (such as meat, cheese, dried beans), whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and sources of calcium (such as milk or other dairy products). Getting enough folic acid in your diet can prevent a neural tube defect. Folic acid can be found in green vegetables and whole grains, but because the amount needed to prevent birth defects is fairly high, you should take a vitamin supplement that contains 400 micrograms of folic acid. The neural tube develops before many women realize that they are pregnant, so most doctors and midwives recommend that all women take a folic acid supplement even before they become pregnant. The March of Dimes has more information about folic acid and neural tube defects on its website.
healthy foodIn general, fresh whole foods are preferable to highly processed foods, and you might want to consider organic foods when available, especially when choosing fresh fruits and vegetables. Commercially grown grapes, strawberries, cherries, peaches, apples, apricots, spinach, bell peppers, celery, green beans, cucumbers, and cantaloupe are among the foods most highly sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, so choosing organically grown alternatives is especially beneficial for these products. You can find more details about healthy eating before and during pregnancy at the U.S. Government's Women's Health site, as well as in some of the references under Additional Readings.
Avoid cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. Most women know that there are harmful to a developing baby, but they should also be avoided when trying to become pregnant. These habits are hard to break, but having a baby is often very good motivation. If you think you might have difficulty, check with your insurance company to see if they sponsor or pay for programs to help you quit. While it is most beneficial to stop smoking altogether, there is benefit in reducing the total number of cigarettes you smoke.
Check prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, supplements, or herbal preparations as these can also harm a developing baby. Review any medications, supplements, or herbs that you take with a doctor, midwife, or pharmacist. Sometimes, it is necessary to continue taking medications, such as asthma medications, to protect your own health. Sometimes, you can substitute safer medications during the pre-pregnancy and pregnancy periods. There are some medications, however, that should not be taken at all during pregnancy or while trying to become pregnant. If you take medications for a chronic health condition, tell your healthcare provider that you want to become pregnant, so that he or she can help you choose medications that are safest during pregnancy.
Avoid environmental toxins while you are trying to become pregnant. These are discussed in more detail in the next section.
A final note on pregnancy preparation: make plans for emotional support. While the birth of a child is generally a happy, anticipated event, it is also stressful. You might worry about how you or your partner will care for a child, what kind of parents you will be, how your other children will react to the new baby, or if you can afford a child. You might recognize how the birth of a child means a loss of control over your body and your time. You might plan to work part-time, to stay at home with your child, or to balance full-time single pregnant womanwork with the care of your child. All of these are stressful, and it is helpful to have frank discussions with your partner about what both of you think you will need from each other, from other family members, and from friends. If handling stress is difficult for you or if you have had a history of depression, this might be a good time to seek therapy with a goal of identifying ways to manage stress.
If you are planning to be a single parent, it is especially important to identify supportive family and friends.
Carrie, who is having her first baby, identified earlier in her pregnancy that she could count on her sister Tina, who has two children, for emotional support. Tina consistently assured Carrie that she would be a great mom and that she would be there to help.