The nursery is ready. The crib is assembled. Infant-sized outfits hang in the closet; piles of onesies, bibs, socks and hats are folded neatly in drawers; and stacks of diapers, wipes and creams stand ready to go to work at the changing table. Your house has been baby proofed, car seat installed, your bag packed and you’ve even done a few dozen practice drills in preparation for the big day.
But just how much preparation have you put into actually planning before pregnancy? At what age should you become pregnant? What time of the month is the best time to become pregnant? What is your health status before, during and after pregnancy? Is your family ready for a baby – first time or otherwise?
According to Jenni Lash, RN, CNM, associate vice president of Women’s and Children’s Services at
Florida Hospital Tampa, a number of professional health organizations recommend practice guidelines for doctors and nurses to address preconception healthcare for women of child bearing age. “Pre-planning for pregnancy months or even years before becoming pregnant optimizes the ability to maintain some control around the timing of conception; ensures the best health for both the mother and baby.”
So, if you’re thinking about having a baby but don’t know where to start, consider these four “baby steps” of a pregnancy plan that walk you through vitally important stages on the path to becoming a new mom.
Make a pre-pregnancy healthcare visit with your doctor
This appointment is important because it allows you to express your desire for a baby, and ask questions, address concerns, and make lifestyle or health changes as directed by your healthcare provider. Know your and your family’s health history and share any important information at this time with your doctor.
Your doctor will need to know about your past medical history:
- Do you suffer from or have a family history of diabetes or high blood pressure
- Active or past infections
- Previous pregnancy information
- Medications (over-the-counter) or prescription (including herbal supplements)
- Drug or alcohol use; past or present
Questions to ask your physician during this visit:
- Should I continue or start vitamins?
- What about additional folic acid?
- How is my weight now? Do I need to lose or gain any weight prior to becoming pregnant?
- Can I continue to take my prescription medications and over-the-counter medications or supplements?
- What if premature birth runs in my family?
Embrace healthy living and take good care of yourself
There are four primary categories of healthy living that you should consider on your journey to becoming pregnant and during pregnancy.
The first of these categories is nutrition. Eat a well-balanced diet that contains all the major food groups. Do not start a diet program or lose or gain too much weight over a short period of time as this could affect your reproductive cycle. Taking a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin with 400 micrograms of Folic Acid helps prevent brain and spinal cord defects.
The second important area is exercise. Establish a daily exercise program prior to your pregnancy and plan to stick with it through your pregnancy (as recommended by your healthcare provider). Exercising before and during pregnancy will strengthen muscles you’ll need during pregnancy and the delivery, improve your circulation, relieve common aches and pains and help control weight gain.
The third category in this phase is emotional health. Learn how to manage everyday stress, get plenty of sleep and introduce methods of stress reduction such as meditation or music. It’s critically important to your health and the health of your baby to take time for yourself. Be aware of and seek help for symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The last piece to complete an inside-out approach to healthy living involves kicking old, unhealthy habits. Eliminate alcohol consumption, stop smoking and avoid second-hand smoke, do not take illegal drugs, wean yourself off caffeine, and avoid being around hazardous substances and chemicals such as paint and harsh cleaning agents.
Know your most fertile days
Understanding when your specific window of opportunity is to getting pregnant will be key in allowing you to becoming pregnant (or avoiding pregnancy). Ovulation is the time in the menstrual cycle when a mature egg is released from the ovary. Dates vary from woman to woman depending on cycle length. Ovulation typically occurs 14 days before menstruation begins and your fertile days start five days before ovulation (sperm can live up to three days).
Signs you’re ovulating include breast tenderness, mittelschmerz (brief period of sharp pain on one side of the lower abdomen – the side where the egg was released), and cervical mucous changes (amount increases, texture becomes elastic, stretchy, slippery, thin and clear).
There are simple ways to pinpoint your fertile days. Experts counsel hopeful mothers to observe the signs, measure and chart out your Basal body temperature (BBT) every morning before you get out of bed and even to use home ovulation kits as they may predict ovulation than evaluating BBT or cervical mucus.
Know you are pregnant sooner rather than later
The sooner you know you’re pregnant, the sooner you can take better care of yourself and your baby.
Early signs that you might be pregnant can include the absence of menstruation, morning sickness (nausea/vomiting), frequent urination, tender swollen breasts, darkening of the areola (area around the nipple) and raised glands around the nipple, blue and pink lines under breasts and abdomen, and last but not least, food cravings.
“Approximately 99 percent of over-the-counter home pregnancy tests are accurate at detecting typical pregnancy hormone levels. Hormone levels can vary, however, and there must be enough hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin also referred to as “the pregnancy hormone”) present in urine in order for a pregnancy test to be able to detect it,” says Dr. Jacquelyn Stone, one of the OB Hospitalists at Florida Hospital Tampa. “The more sensitive a pregnancy test is, the lower the level of hCG it is able to detect,” says Stone.
Once you find out you are pregnant, you can maximize your changes for a healthy, full-term baby. Unfortunately in the United States, prematurity continues to be a major issue. Babies born before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy are called premature or preterm. About 12 percent of babies in the United States are born preterm. Of those, the majority (84 percent) are born between 32 and 36 weeks of gestation. About 10 percent are born between 28 and 31 weeks of gestation, and about 6 percent are born at less than 28 weeks of gestation. The average term pregnancy is now at 39 weeks not 40.
- Schedule an appointment with your gynecologist to confirm the pregnancy.
- Continue healthy living, including eating right and taking vitamins.
- If you smoke, stop immediately. If you drink alcohol, caffeine or use illicit drugs, stop immediately. Ask your OB/Gynecologist for help.
- Manage your expected and desired weight gain with your provider.
- Have fun and manage life stress with relaxation and exercise.
- Discuss your exercise plan with your OB/Gynecologist.
- Determine where you want to deliver your baby and schedule time to tour the hospital or facility so you can:
- Meet with a birth designer who can help you create a personalized birth experience centered around your preferences and needs
- Become familiar with the facility’s location and parking, so you know exactly where to go when you arrive on the day of your delivery
- Become familiar with their emergency OB care (OB emergency room and availability of neonatal intensive care)
- Find out if the facility has an OB on staff at all times
- Understand what they offer in terms breast feeding education and lactation consultants before, during and after your delivery, and parenting/sibling classes.
- Learn about special amenities available for you and your family (such as special meals, concierge services, massages or new baby portrait photography)
For more information about the new mom/baby unit at Florida Hospital Tampa, or to schedule a personal tour, please call (813) 615-8083 or send an email request to Emily.Sullivan@ahss.org.