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

How to get healthy while planning for pregnancy.

Updated on June 7, 2023

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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 parents-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 expecting parents physically and mentally prepare for pregnancy and beyond.

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Consider your parenting styles and values

If you haven't been a parent before, you may wonder, “What is my parenting style?” 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 a child. 

Aside from researching sleep schedules and toilet training, you should also consider 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. 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 parents and babies, but complications may arise in some cases.

“Sometimes, there is something genetically or structurally wrong with a baby,” says Melanie Smith, MD, an OBGYN 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 (HCP) and educate yourself about your risk factors for complications such as miscarriage, preterm delivery, preeclampsia, and gestational diabetes.

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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. 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.

Kicking the habit during pregnancy can not only enhance health outcomes for your baby, but can also improve your energy levels and reduce your risk for serious chronic health issues, such as heart disease, cancer, and lung disease.

Secondhand smoke also matters. Exposure during pregnancy is linked to a 20 percent greater chance of having 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. 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 published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology of 55 studies involving 41,747 babies with congenital heart disease and 297,587 without these issues 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, and binge drinking (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. 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 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-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity 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. The reason is that 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 HCP 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 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid, a main ingredient in all prenatal vitamins, daily can help lower the risk of neural tube defects in babies when then 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 HCP 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 blood sugar can cause issues in the developing baby, says Dr. 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 did not prove cause and effect, it did 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 HCP about pregnancy-approved management plans. In many cases, you'll be prescribed the lowest effective dose for any medications or other lifestyle adjustments that don't require medication.

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Prepare for your body to change

It’s no surprise that pregnancy changes your body. 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, which may 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 HCP 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 checkups. If you’re trying to conceive, schedule a preconception exam with an OBGYN who can assess your risk for infections that could lead to pregnancy-related complications or affect a developing fetus, 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 baby 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 CDC cautions.

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

People who are pregnant or trying to conceive should receive both the seasonal flu shot and the Tdap (whooping cough) vaccine. 

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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Consider taking 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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