Here is a guide to help you plan for your pregnancy physically,
financially and emotionally.
You don't need to be a top athlete to have a baby - but it's a
great idea to get your body ready before you try to conceive.
Have a look at your lifestyle - do you have a
healthy diet? Are you getting regular exercise? Do you smoke or
drink coffee or alcohol? What medications, herbal preparations or
drugs (legal or otherwise) do you take regularly?
And although women need to prepare their bodies for pregnancy,
men play a pretty important role in the conception stage, so it's
worth making sure you are both involved in getting physically
Regular gentle exercise can usually continue throughout
conception and pregnancy; it is usually wise to discuss your
exercise regime with your doctor to make sure that you can keep up
your present activity.
Follow general healthy eating principles to prepare your body to
make and carry a baby and cut down on harmful extras like alcohol,
coffee, tobacco and non-essential drugs.
Women should also try to increase their intake of folic acid (a
vitamin present in green leafy vegetables and some cereals) for
three months before they try to conceive, to prevent neural tube
defects. Keep up the folic acid intake until three months into a
pregnancy; many good folic acid supplements are available in
Men aren't off the hook when it comes to eating sensibly; sperm
take 75 days to develop, and some researchers recommend that men
ensure they are eating a healthy diet that includes adequate zinc
and selenium (or take a multivitamin) for at least three months
Sometimes health advice can be confusing. Some research suggests
that high levels of mercury in some seafood can be particularly bad
for couples wanting to become pregnant, however many experts note
that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon are very
good for you and vital for a baby's brain development.
If you're confused, talk to your doctor or a trusted
nutritionist to get the full story.
You can also read our article on fish, essential fatty acids and
Omega 3 in the feeding your baby section.
Try to plan a visit to your doctor before you start trying for a
baby. Knowing your medical history, doing some simple tests and
identifying some precautions that you in particular may need to
take, can make your pregnancy planning much more smoothly.
Before you visit your doctor, though, there's some information
that you need to gather.
It's worth making the struggle to recall those long-forgotten
childhood illnesses. Have you had measles, mumps or rubella? What
is your immunisation history?
What other illnesses have you had? Any sexually transmitted
diseases that either partner has experienced may be relevant; also
note any surgery or chronic conditions for either of you.
Talk to your parents and your partner's parents - or perhaps
other relatives - to find out more detail about both your childhood
illnesses - and also, your families' genetic histories. Are there
twins in the family? What about inherited diseases?
Some diseases are particularly relevant to pregnancy; for
example, are you predisposed to diabetes or heart disease? Gather
information about serious illnesses that you have had or that
appear regularly in your family - like high blood pressure, cancer,
epilepsy, kidney disease or arthritis.
A woman's gynaecological history is important at this time; you
will be asked about menstrual patterns, sexual history, pap smear
history, use of birth control and any previous pregnancies,
miscarriages, abortions or births, and about any other
gynaecological issues. If you haven't kept a menstrual diary in the
past you might consider doing so now.
Sometimes, delving into your family history may uncover
information about blood relatives with hereditary disorders. Family
history may mean that you may (or may not) have a greater risk of
passing on genetic disorders (like cystic fibrosis), chromosomal
disorders (such as Down's syndrome) or congenital defects (like
Some of the more common genetic diseases include haemophilia,
thalassemia (more common in those with a Greek heritage), Tay-Sachs
disease, sickle cell anaemia (more common in those with an African
heritage), and cystic fibrosis.
A specialist genetic counsellor can help you understand your
risk of passing on a hereditary disease and how you might manage
this risk or what other decisions you might make. Other reasons to
seek genetic counselling may include a history of repeated
miscarriages or a blood relationship between partners.
Your doctor can arrange a referral if you are concerned.
At this visit, you can talk to your doctor about your plans and
have a full medical check-up. A basic examination will include
heart-rate, blood pressure, a breast check and pap smear (if this
Your doctor may order some blood and urine tests; for example,
your doctor may check that you have antibodies to rubella (also
called German measles), as exposure in early pregnancy can often
cause birth defects like deafness. Even immunised women may lose
immunity, so you may face another vaccination and then a
three-month delay in conception to prevent your baby being exposed
to the virus, which is still quite common.
In pregnancy, rapid hormone changes can trigger all sorts of
reactions; you can discuss these with your doctor in light of your
own medical history.
Having a record of your blood pressure before pregnancy also
makes it easier to monitor changes in blood pressure during
pregnancy that may indicate potential problems like pre-eclampsia,
which can be managed with early intervention.
Discuss your current contraception with your doctor so that you
have a plan in place for stopping contraception before trying to
conceive. If condoms or diaphragms are used, little planning is
required, but those on the pill or with an IUD or implanted contraceptives may need to
stop contraception anything up to a few months before attempting to
You can also talk to your doctor about your plans for pregnancy
care; you may choose to be referred to an obstetrician, a midwife,
a hospital birth centre or to have shared care between your General
Practitioner and a specialist.
It's true, babies don't need much in the early days, despite the
masses of baby gear available in shops. The most difficult thing
for most couples to handle is the loss of income when the baby's
primary caregiver stops work. If you both choose to continue
working, child care can also be very costly.
If you haven't already done so, a visit to an accredited
financial planner may help you to identify how to manage your
finances for your new family.
You may be eligible for a government Maternity Payment when your
child is born and may also be entitled to other benefits like the
Family Tax Benefit, Child Care Benefit or Parenting Payments,
depending on your income and assets.
Although research suggests that the majority of new parents
still assume the traditional roles of male provider and female
carer, most don't discuss their new roles and responsibilities.
Author, Alison Osbourne, says new parents often have unspoken
expectations about what their partner should do, what each parent
should provide, even basic details about domestic duties, based on
their own family background. These expectations that haven't been
communicated can lead to conflict.
She suggests that before they have a baby, partners discuss how
they will share household duties outside core working hours and how
each partner will get some time out alone after their baby is
However private obstetric, midwifery and private hospital care
during pregnancy and birth can be very expensive, so it is wise to
ensure you have adequate health cover.
But if your due date has been confirmed by your doctor and you
need to claim for a premature birth or pregnancy complications,
this is usually covered.
When all your plans are in place, you are ready for the fun bit
By Fran Molloy, journalist and mom of four