Preparing for Baby: 12 Things to Do Before Trying to Conceive

How to get healthy, have a little fun and plan for a growing family.

Medically reviewed in June 2022

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If you’re trying to conceive, you may have already considered some lifestyle adjustments that you’ll have to make after the baby arrives. But even before the nine month journey begins, there are some important steps that mothers and fathers-to-be should make to help ensure they achieve the best possible outcome on delivery day.

While there are no guarantees (some things are simply out of your control), there are ways to optimize fertility—aside from attempting to time sex with ovulation. Making certain dietary and lifestyle changes and having some important conversations can help expectant parents physically and mentally prepare for pregnancy and beyond.

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Consider your parenting styles and values

Without having been a parent before, you may wonder, “What is my parenting style?” You’ll likely consider your views on discipline if you’re ever faced with a toddler have a temper tantrum but even before delivery, you can start preparing for the issues you’ll face down the road by thinking about your values and the ways in which you want to raise your child.

Aside from researching sleep schedules and toilet training, you should also discuss whether or not you want to raise your child in a religious environment and how you’re going to convey values like honesty, responsibility, obedience and independence.

If you have a partner that practices a different faith, you may want to talk through what, if any, religious beliefs you’ll teach your child. This can also help you prepare for decisions about schooling and religious sacraments, ceremonies and rites of passage.

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Think about your finances and career

Raising a child costs money. How much you’ll need to spend to raise a child depends on where you live, your lifestyle, and many other variables. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that it would cost around $233,610 to raise a child born in 2015 until the age of 17.

Before you bring a new baby home, it’s important to consider your finances. A certified financial planner can help you develop a budget and long-term savings plan to meet your financial goals, which may include child-related costs, ranging from daycare to college tuition.

By thinking about the economics of raising a child early on, you’ll have more time to strategize and make any necessary arrangements or adjustments.

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Don't ignore the risks

Most pregnancies result in healthy moms and babies, but complications may arise in some cases.

“Sometimes, there is something genetically or structurally wrong with a baby,” says OBGYN Melanie Smith, MD, of Trident Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina. “There could be severe problems and you’ll have to provide long-term care for this baby as they age because of minor or severe disabilities.”

You may never be fully prepared for difficult news, but it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider and educate yourself about your individual risk factors for complications that could affect women or their babies, such as miscarriage, preterm delivery, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.

There is no need to worry about these issues unnecessarily, but it can be beneficial to consider how you would cope or manage these complications, Dr. Smith says.

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Quit smoking

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits can not only help ensure a healthy pregnancy but also help you be a positive role model down the road. One of the most important steps to take if you’re trying to conceive or plan to bring a child into your home, is to quit smoking.

Smoking is also associated with fertility issues for both men and women. Women who smoke are more likely to be infertile. Moreover, some studies show that men who smoke have reduced sperm quality than men who don’t.

Smoking during pregnancy can lead to a range of problems for developing fetuses and newborns, including low-birth weight, preterm delivery, lung conditions, asthma, learning disabilities, physical development issues—and even death. Still, 12 to 20 percent of pregnant women smoke, according to the American Pregnancy Association, and in the U.S., more than 1,000 babies die every year because their mothers smoked during pregnancy.

On the flip side, kicking the habit during pregnancy can also improve women’s energy levels, and reduce their risk for serious chronic health issues, such as heart disease, cancer and lung disease.

Secondhand smoke also matters.  Pregnant women who are exposed are 20 percent more likely to have a low-birth weight baby. Infants exposed to secondhand smoke are also at higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma attacks and ear infections.

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Cut back on alcohol

Many women already know there is no “safe” level of drinking during pregnancy but it’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol if you’re trying to conceive. This advice also applies to fathers-to-be.

The first few weeks of pregnancy (yes, even those four to six weeks you may not know you’re pregnant) are crucial for a baby’s development: the face, mouth, lower jaw and throat will start to form, and the “heart” tube will even start to beat at the end of the first month. With so much of the crucial development happening, it’s no surprise that alcohol can interfere. Drinking during pregnancy can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, fetal alcohol syndrome and physical, intellectual, behavioral or learning disabilities.

The relationship between alcohol and sperm health is still under investigation but some research suggests that men hoping to father a child should curb their alcohol intake as well. One October 2019 review of 55 studies involving 41,747 babies with congenital heart disease and 297,587 without these defects published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that for men, drinking alcohol three months before pregnancy was associated with a 44 percent higher risk for congenital heart disease.

The more dads-to-be drink, the higher the risk, the researchers noted. The review also found that binge drinking among aspiring dads (having five or more drinks per sitting) was linked with a 52 percent higher risk for these birth defects. For the women trying to conceive, the risk of congenital heart disease increased by 16 percent among those who drank in the three months leading up to their pregnancy and during their first trimester.

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Reduce your caffeine intake

Some caffeine during pregnancy is okay, but women who rely on coffee and other caffeinated energy drinks to power through their days should start cutting back on their habit once they’re trying to conceive.

Experts recommend consuming fewer than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day when you’re pregnant, which is a about a 12-ounce cup of coffee. If you’re trying to conceive, it can’t hurt to adhere to those recommendations.

A small study published in the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Fertility and Sterility journal, which followed 344 couples, concluded that women who had more than two caffeinated drinks daily while pregnant had a 74 percent higher risk of miscarriage than those who drank less caffeine. And, when their partner had more than two caffeinated drinks per day, there was also an increased risk of miscarriage.

It’s wise to be cautious and limit your overall caffeine consumption to just one or two beverages per day, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

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Manage your weight and exercise plan

Keeping your weight and exercise regimen in check is important for overall health. Doing so can lower the risk of hypertension, obesity and diabetes—all of which can help set you up for success if you’re trying to conceive.    

It’s recommended that most adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week but you may need to make some adjustments to your exercise regimen before and during pregnancy.

Experts caution against working out with too much intensity. Moreover, if your body mass index (BMI) is less than 25 kg/m2, meaning you’re not overweight, limit vigorous exercise to less than five hours per week. Reason being? There may be a relationship between strenuous exercise and ovulation issues.

On the flip side, too little exercise may be associated with obesity, which may cause anovulation (a menstrual cycle without ovulation), which could delay conception.

Exercise and weight recommendations vary from person to person. Talk to your OB/GYN about what’s best for you and your partner.

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Start taking a prenatal supplement

Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should fill key nutritional gaps with a prenatal vitamin. Nutrients found in prenatal vitamins—like folic acid, iron, calcium and vitamin D, among others—are necessary for the growth and development of a fetus. Many studies have linked them to reduced risk of birth defects.

Taking at least 400 mcg of folic acid, a main ingredient in all prenatal vitamins, daily can help lower the risk of neural tube defects in babies when women take them before conception. It’s best to start taking them at least one month before trying to conceive and continue taking them throughout pregnancy.

There are many over-the-counter options, but you can also ask your OB/GYN for prescription samples and recommendations. Some women have trouble digesting prenatal vitamins, so it’s okay if you have to try a few options before you settle on the one that works for you and your body.

Bonus? The extra nutrients, like biotin, may support your hair and nails, too.

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Make sure chronic conditions are in check

It’s important to protect your health at all stages of life, but it’s particularly important for anyone trying to conceive to make sure that any chronic health issues they have are under control in order to avoid complications during pregnancy or beyond.

If you have diabetes, for example, high levels of sugar can cause malformations in the developing baby, says Smith. And it's especially important to get hypertension under control before you start trying to conceive. One 2018 study, published in the American Heart Association's journal Hypertension, followed 1,228 mostly white women who had at least one previous miscarriage and were trying to become pregnant again. Researchers found that women who had slightly elevated blood pressure—not even in the range considered to be hypertension—before conception or in the early stages of pregnancy, had a higher chance of miscarriage. As blood pressure levels rose, so did the risk. While the study cannot prove cause and effect, it does suggest an association between blood pressure and reproductive health.

If you have a chronic condition, such as heart disease, diabetes, an eating disorder, depression, asthma, an autoimmune disorder, arthritis or a sexually transmitted infection, talk with your healthcare providers (HCP) about pregnancy-approved management plans. In many cases, HCPs prescribe the lowest effective dose for any medications, or recommend other lifestyle adjustments that don't require medication for pregnant women and those trying to become pregnant.

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Prepare for your body to change

It’s no surprise that pregnancy changes your body, and while you’ll never be able to know exactly how your body will handle carrying a baby, it might help to try and mentally prepare for some possible changes.

“Pregnancy is one of the most beautiful things in the world but it does take a toll on the body—and it's not all a bed of roses,” Smith says. “I call them the pregnancy taxes—you have to pay your taxes and some people have to pay more taxes than others.” Some of the changes you might experience while pregnant, include:

  • Acid reflux or heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Sleeping problems
  • Vaginal or pelvic pressure
  • Ankle swelling
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain with walking
  • Varicose veins
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Scarring
  • Moodiness

“I think a lot of people are surprised at the level of discomfort that you can have during pregnancy and that it's a normal part of the process,” Smith points out. “It's a beautiful discomfort but discomfort nonetheless.”

Most changes and symptoms begin to resolve after delivery, but if you’re experiencing extreme discomfort, talk to your OB/GYN about possible treatment options.

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Get up to date on screenings and vaccinations

It’s important for women who are trying to get pregnant to be current on their health screenings and check-ups. If you’re trying to conceive, schedule a preconception exam with your OB/GYN who can assess your risk for infections that could lead to pregnancy-related complications or affect a developing baby, such as toxoplasmosis, genital herpes and HIV. Your HCP can also determine if you’re a carrier for some of the genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease, which could contribute to pregnancy complications and may even affect fertility.

If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you should also make sure you’re fully vaccinated. If you’re protected against vaccine-preventable diseases, you will pass on antibodies to your fetus after delivery—a time when babies are too young to receive vaccines themselves, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Infants who are infected with the flu or whooping cough are at high risk of hospitalization and death, the agency cautions.

But it’s not just about the baby. The risk for hospitalization is twice as high for pregnant women who get the flu than those who aren’t pregnant.

Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should receive both the seasonal flu shot and the Tdap (whooping cough) vaccine. In the U.S. however, most women aren’t heeding this advice. A CDC survey of nearly 2,100 women between 18 to 49-years old who were pregnant between August 2018 and April 2019 showed that only 35 percent (one in three) pregnant women reported receiving both vaccines during pregnancy—even though these shots have been proven safe and effective for pregnant women. The CDC pointed out that black, non-Hispanic women had lower vaccination rates than women of other races.

Keep in mind, certain vaccines aren’t safe for pregnant women. The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, for example, should not be given during pregnancy or within a month of attempting to get pregnant. It's also important that your HCP determine if you've ever had chicken pox.

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Take a "babymoon"

As many sleep deprived parents can attest, raising happy and healthy children involves a commitment of their time and energy.  

Before a new baby arrives, take advantage and make the most of any free time you might have. That could involve taking a trip, crossing a few items off your “bucket list,” participating in some activities that you enjoy or simply take steps to ease stress and prioritize sleep.

For some, the road to conception may be long and sometimes rocky. Focusing on self-care now could help you prepare for the months and years to come.  

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