As irrational as it may be, I’m always anxious about going to the OB-GYN. Even if it’s a routine pap smear or otherwise normal check-in, I have this strange fear of something being wrong, reproductively. (I even wrote about this anxiety recently in another story for Blood & Milk.) But a few months ago, I strolled into my doctor’s office, thrilled to be less antsy and more excited. After all, I had happy news to share: my partner and I decided we would like to start our path to conception next summer.
She smiled, equally as ecstatic for me, and quickly said: “Well, let’s get you ready, then!”
Ask any woman who has conceived, carried, and delivered a baby, and they’ll share it’s a process that extends far beyond nine months. While we tend to forget it, pregnancy is creating a whole new person inside your own body, and it requires women to develop an entirely new organ, the placenta, to help the fetus grow strong. It’s not an easy undertaking, and it’s one that often requires optimal health, lifestyle adjustments, and plenty of careful considerations.
If, like me, you hope to start your family soon, fertility specialists recommend doing all that you can to set yourself (and your future child) up for success. Though it’s important to note plenty of women will have perfectly beautiful pregnancies unexpectedly, without preparation, it also doesn’t hurt to think ahead physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Here, your 12-month guide to preparing for pregnancy:
Month 1: Celebrate the decision
Whether you are planning to conceive with a partner or yourself, it’s worth a pause! And perhaps, applause. Deciding to grow a family is a huge milestone and one that should be intentional and happy. That’s why it’s important to take joy at the moment and aim to cut out stress and anxiety as much as you can, according to Patricia Ladis, PT, CBBA, a licensed physical therapist and author of The Wise Woman’s Guide to Your Healthiest Pregnancy and Birth. This could be as simple as trying to let go of negative recurring thoughts or sticking to daily 20-minute meditation. The goal is to get your mind in the right place, right from the start.
If you are having a child with your partner, it’s important to ensure he or she is along for the ride, too. For heterosexual couples, this begins with a pact to stay vigilant in their resolve to attain optimal health, since both sperm and eggs are required to make the magic, according to OB-GYN Felice Gersh, M.D., the founder and director of the Integrative Group of Irvine and the author of PCOS SOS Fertility Fast Track.
“Teamwork is best when it comes to staying the course over time. And when the goal is acquiring and maintaining healthful lifestyle habits, do it together,” she recommends.
Month 2: Commit to an exercise routine you can maintain
Staying active is a vital part of preparing for a pregnancy and carrying a baby to term. But it doesn’t need to be a long run, an intense HIIT workout, or sweaty boxing class to be beneficial. In fact, if you don’t have a current exercise routine, Ladis says to begin small by taking a 30-minute walk every single day. “This form of movement clears your mind, gets your blood circulating, strengthens your joints, activates your digestive system and ultimately reduces your inflammation,” she shares. “You will create a positive lifestyle habit which, when you carry into your pregnancy, will benefit your baby’s developing brain by improving neuroplasticity.”
If you are a fan of abdominal workouts, planks and other high-energy moves, you should still keep up with them. After all, once you are pregnant, there will be new limitations to what workouts you can safely do, so enjoy them now!
Month 3: Begin taking a folic acid supplement
One of the first ‘to-do’ items from my OB-GYN was implementing a folic acid supplement into my routine. Though it’s fine to do this at any point within the year before you conceive, it’s not a bad habit to get into ASAP. As board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist Dr. Ellen Hayes, MD, explains, when our folic acid levels are adequate in our body, it can help prevent certain birth defects in the fetus. She also says it’s been shown to improve fertility, too. How much should you aim to take? Around 400 mcg per day.
Month 4: Book your checkups
Now is the time to book checkups with your primary care physician and OB-GYN to start digging into foundation laboratory tests. While this is mostly blood work, it’s also a solid time to have an open discussion with your doctor to understand better what your unique body needs, and maybe, what you’re lacking. This way, if there are any underlying issues, like hypertension, vaginal infections, or nutritional deficiency, you can address them ASAP.
Month 5: Review your and your partner’s personal care products and household products
Unfortunately, when you’re pregnant, it’s not only foods—like raw fish and booze—that you have to omit from your diet; it’s also products. However, to give your fertility the best chance possible, Dr. Hayes says it’s worthwhile to start reading the back labels of your personal care and household products now. As she puts it: there are thousands of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in our environment that can mimic or block the effects of our natural reproductive hormones.
Before you freak out, take it product by product. “One of the biggest offenders are Phthalates that can affect sperm, egg, and embryo quality. Besides replacing your plastic food containers and water bottles with glass or stainless steel, look for a ‘phthalate-free’ label on the personal care products you use every day, especially perfumes, nail polish, and hairsprays,” she recommends.
In your cleaning products, she says to look for BPA or Bisphenol A, a chemical that’s used in hard plastics, thermal paper receipts and the lining of canned food. “Higher levels of BPA can lead to lower fertility and increased risk of miscarriage, so reducing exposure is important,” she continues. “When exposure to BPA is reduced, the levels in the body decrease rapidly in just a few days.”
Month 6: Begin tracking cycles and come off of birth control
Woohoo! Only six more months to go before you ‘officially’ start trying to get pregnant. Since you have the best chance of conceiving when you ovulate, it’s smart to get more comfortable knowing when those days fall in your cycle. As Dr. Renee Wellenstein, a double board-certified doctor in OB-GYN and Functional Medicine, explains, tracking your menstrual cycles will help you understand your regularity. And yes, this means saying ‘buh-bye’ to your birth control pills. How come? You can’t really know how your body is performing on its own until you don’t regulate your cycle with a pill.
Month 7: Prioritize sleep
Since you’re moving into a time in your life when sleep will be a luxury, now is the time to soak up all of the shuteye you can get. As Dr. Gersh explains, quality sleep is essential to achieving excellent health and fertility, and women who have inadequate rest tend to have more ovulatory problems. How come? The melatonin that’s made while sleeping is a basic necessity for our ovaries to function. She recommends aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep nightly and trying to make your bedtime 11 p.m. or earlier.
Month 8: Focus on your diet and weight
Having your weight at a healthy number before Dr. Gersh recommends pregnancy since it makes it easier to carry your baby to full-term. Your doctor can help you pinpoint your goal number, and when he or she does, there are many ways to improve your diet. One she recommends is intermittent fasting, with a minimum 13-hour fast from dinner until breakfast. Your meals should also start large and get smaller throughout the day, with very little snacking. “Time-restricted eating and fasting are great to boost a healthy gut microbiome, lose extra fat pounds, and overall improve health,” she continues. “Women should not do fasting while attempting pregnancy, but it’s great prior to that time.” As with any advice you read on the internet, be sure to check with your own doctor before making changes to your diet.
What foods should you eat? The rainbow! As Ladis explains, it’s essential to receive a wide range of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, like soups, vegetables and other goodies from the earth.
Month 9: Turn up the romance
If you are having a baby with your partner, try your best not to make sex a chore but a sexy, fun next-stage in your relationship. Since you’re only a few months away from conception, now is the time to turn up the romance, Dr. Gersh says. “Sex is needed to conceive a baby, and often it becomes seen as a job and not as a loving and bonding experience,” she shares. “Relationship building is best achieved and maintained when romance is a focus of a marriage or partnership.”
This might mean planning a staycation or short ‘pre-baby’ getaway, coming up with intimate games to play together, and other adventures under the covers. The hope is to become even closer to one another, so you can connect in a whole new way.
Month 10: Think about your pregnancy and labor experience
Your sister, your best friend, your mother, or any other woman you chat with will have a different opinion on what type of healthcare provider is best. Some prefer midwives, others like having the same OB-GYN from the get-go. Some want to give birth in a hospital or birthing center, while others may want a home birth. Though you are still far away from giving birth, it’s worthwhile to research the differences between these types of healthcare professionals and determine what experience you would like to have, according to Talitha Phillips, a labor and postpartum doula and the CEO of Claris Health.
Once you know what works best for your personality and preferences, try to book your appointment ASAP! “Building that relationship early helps ease and avoid a medical transition when you’re pregnant,” she shares. It’s also a great time to purchase books and read blogs, all of which will help prepare you for what’s ahead.
Month 11: Make self-care a priority
If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t care for a fetus! As excited and nervous as you may be a month away from trying to conceive, self-care should be at the top of your list right now, according to Dr. Wellenstein. She recommends blocking 30 minutes a day to do something that fills your cup and makes you feel good. It could be reading, exercising, taking a bath, going on a walk, meditating, or anything at all. “Often, self-care is something that goes on the back burner after having children, so establishing a routine before having kids will make it more of a priority after the baby arrives,” she adds.
Month 12: Cut out alcohol and cut down on caffeine
We hate to break it to you, but as you inch closer to conception time, it’s best to omit alcohol from your diet and cut back on caffeine. Dr. Wellenstein says that since the amount of alcohol tolerated without complications in pregnancy is still unknown, it’s best to stop boozing prior to actively getting pregnant. And though caffeine isn’t bad for you, if you’re drinking more than two cups a day, try to scale it back to one.