Yay! Your trying-for-a-baby days are about to begin. You’re ready to get to work, but is your body ready for pregnancy?
Our bodies are capable of incredible things, but that doesn’t mean getting pregnant is easy for everyone. That’s why preparing your body for pregnancy is so important. Your physical, mental and emotional health are essential for increasing your chances of conception and a healthy pregnancy.
From figuring out when you’re most fertile during your cycle to what to eat while trying to get pregnant, we’ve put together a preparing-for-pregnancy checklist to help you get started on preconception planning.
Preparing for pregnancy Part 1: Take your first baby steps
Stop using birth control
One of the first things to do before getting pregnant is simple: you’ll need to stop any birth control methods you’re using. Just make sure you’re ready.
Barrier birth control methods, like condoms or a diaphragm, can be used until the day you start trying to conceive. If you’re using contraceptives like birth control pills or an intrauterine device (IUD), you may want to switch to a barrier method now if you’re planning to start trying in the next couple months. Why?
In order to get pregnant, you need to begin regular ovulation again. Ovulation occurs when an egg is released from your ovary – which is something birth control pills, rings, patches, implants and hormonal IUDs are meant to prevent. These types of hormonal birth control methods can also make your cervical mucus thicker, which helps prevent sperm from reaching an egg if it is released.
Getting pregnant immediately after stopping birth control is possible, but it could take several months.
Track your menstrual cycle
The first day of your period marks the beginning of a new menstrual cycle – the monthly process that makes pregnancy possible. And tracking your cycle helps you do two things: understand the patterns of body changes you experience throughout your cycle and narrow down your fertile window.
Your fertile window is when your chances of conceiving are highest. Your fertile window also includes your ovulation window, which is a roughly 24- to 72-hour time period when conception can occur.
When are most women usually fertile? The average cycle length is 28 days, but it can range from 21-35 days. Depending on your cycle, your fertile window can be six to 10 days in length and occurs mid-cycle.
So, the next time your period rolls around, start tracking. Record when your period starts and when it ends, what you notice about your flow, and any symptoms you have. These symptoms might include cramps, back aches or breast tenderness during your period and throughout the rest of your cycle.
If this seems a little daunting, don’t worry. You can use a fertility tracker app to help. There are dozens of mobile apps out there designed to make it easy to track your period and symptoms, visualize patterns and (eventually) time your baby-making sessions. Some apps include:
Eventually, you may start tracking fertility data like basal temperature or ovulation test data too. Your basal temperature – your resting body temperature – can rise slightly when you’re ovulating. And at-home ovulation tests can help detect a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine, which signals ovulation is near.
Both can help you figure out your most fertile days and time sex for the best chances of conception – and a fertility tracker can be extremely helpful in keeping track of all the data each month.
Schedule a preconception checkup
The best way to prepare your body for pregnancy is to make sure your body is healthy – and that’s where a preconception visit with an OB-GYN, certified nurse-midwife (CNW) or family medicine doctor comes in.
A preconception checkup is similar to an annual physical but includes additional care geared toward family planning and pregnancy. It may take a couple of weeks for you to get in for an appointment. That’s why we recommend that you make a preconception appointment early on.
Here are some of the things you can expect during your visit:
- A review of your medical and reproductive history, including:
- Whether you’re up to date on recommended immunizations like tetanus, hepatitis and whooping cough
- Current medications you’re taking (including vitamins and supplements)
- Health conditions you’re managing, like diabetes, anxiety, high blood pressure or other medical concerns
- Past pregnancies
- A discussion about your lifestyle and working environments
- Pre-pregnancy diet and prenatal vitamin recommendations
- A physical exam, which may include a Pap test and pelvic exam
- Lab tests (depending on a variety of factors like your age or current health conditions)
- A time to ask any preconception planning questions or concerns that are on your mind – now is the perfect time to ask your doctor, nurse practitioner or midwife
What’s the difference between a midwife and OB-GYN? Or how about a family doctor for pregnancy? All can provide you with incredible care now and if you get pregnant. Choosing the right person for you comes down to your health, pregnancy goals and preferences.
Ask your partner to schedule his own preconception exam, too
Your partner’s health is just as important as yours when you’re trying to have a baby. Health issues like obesity, depression or stress, and lifestyle factors such as smoking and drinking alcohol are just a sampling of the factors that can impact male fertility. So, get your own appointment on the books and ask him to do the same.
Planning for pregnancy Part 2: How to prepare your body for pregnancy
Start taking a prenatal multivitamin
Many women wonder when to start taking prenatal vitamins. Once you know you’re pregnant? Before? The first few weeks of pregnancy are important for fetal health and development. Certain vitamins – especially folic acid – help with development and help reduce birth defects.
When you do conceive, the earliest you may find out you’re pregnant is around Week 4. So if you’re planning for pregnancy starting prenatal vitamins before you’re pregnant (and continuing them throughout your pregnancy) is important.
There are plenty of prenatal multivitamin brands to choose from – just make sure you read the labels. Look for prenatal vitamins that have a minimum of 400 milligrams of folic acid and aim to take them for a full month before becoming pregnant.
Begin a pre-pregnancy diet
Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is always important for your health and well-being. But when you’re getting ready to conceive, the right nutrients can improve your fertility and, eventually, support a healthy pregnancy.
What does a pre-pregnancy diet look like? Eating a variety of foods is important. Your body needs adequate protein, carbohydrates and fats for energy, as well as folic acid, calcium and iron. These are the same nutrients you'll want to include in your diet once you are pregnant.
- Proteins – Protein helps support important body functions like tissue repair, hormone function and muscle building. It also helps you regulate your blood sugar. Lean proteins like fish that are low in mercury, skinless turkey or chicken, low-fat dairy, and legumes (peas, beans and lentils) help support body function while also limiting your intake of saturated fats.
- Fats – Saturated fats raise blood lipids. Over time, this can increase your risk for heart disease. So, reduce your intake of saturated fats like butter, cheese, and fatty meats such as beef and some pork products. Instead, add more unsaturated fats like olive oil, avocados, peanuts and tree nuts to your diet.
- Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates give your body energy but complex carbohydrates are the best choice. Processed foods like cookies, chips and soda – and anything with refined sugar added – are simple carbohydrates that don’t provide much if any nutritional value. But complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and vegetables are low in sugar or have natural sugars, and are excellent sources of essential vitamins and fiber:
- Brussels sprouts
- Citrus fruits
- Fortified grains
In addition to eating a balanced diet of proteins, fats and carbs in pre-pregnancy, you should also:
- Increase your water intake – Aim for 8-10 cups of water per day.
- Reduce your caffeine intake – You should cap yourself at 200 mg of caffeine per day, which is roughly the equivalent of one large cup of coffee.
- Assess your weight – Being overweight (and underweight) can have an impact on your fertility, making it more difficult to conceive or sustain a healthy pregnancy. Being overweight while pregnant can also increase the risk of high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, oversized babies and more.
Make a quit plan
Over the years, numerous studies have shown that smoking while pregnant, as well as drinking and using other drugs, can be harmful to mothers and their babies. But you might not know that smoking, drinking and drug use while you’re trying to conceive may be detrimental too.
Smoking has been linked to a range of fertility issues, including increased risk of ectopic pregnancy, damage to eggs as they develop in your ovaries, changes to your uterine lining that may make correct embryo implantation less likely, and more.
When it comes to drinking while trying to conceive, one of the biggest concerns is the impact alcohol can have in the early weeks of pregnancy. Crucial organ development happens in the first few weeks – before you might know that you’re pregnant – and excessive drinking can lead to complications. Try to avoid or limit alcohol while trying to conceive, then avoid during pregnancy.
If you need help quitting, talk with your doctor, midwife or nurse practitioner during your preconception exam. They can connect you with helpful resources, and if you’re a HealthPartners insurance plan member, you have free access to a health coach. Just call 800-311-1052 to get started.
Start exercising before getting pregnant
Physical activity – along with a healthy diet – is important for maintaining a healthy weight and strengthening and conditioning your body. Pregnancy is a lot of work for your body. Staying active and exercising can improve your overall health, help prepare your body for pregnancy and set your baby up for a healthy start.
How often should you exercise when you’re trying to get pregnant?
Generally, 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week (or 150 minutes each week) is a good goal. If you’re not used to exercising regularly, start with 10- to 15-minute blocks and work your way up. If you’re already pretty active, try to increase your activity level to between 150 and 300 minutes each week.
What type of exercise should you do if you’re trying to get pregnant?
Walking is an easy, relatively low-impact way to get moving. Restorative exercises like stretching, yoga and foam rolling are great for relaxation and healing from more strenuous activities. Squats can also be a good strengthening exercise – especially since you may be getting low to pick up toys or your baby in the near future. What’s more, these are also safe exercises to do during pregnancy. So it’s worth getting familiar with at least a few of them.
Limit toxin exposure at home and at work
From cleaning products to cosmetics, you encounter toxins every day – many of which can be harmful to reproductive health. While you may not be able to eliminate exposure to certain toxins, there are steps you can take to minimize or avoid exposure. Some tips include:
- Avoid secondhand smoke whenever possible
- Ditch chemical-based household cleaners and make your own using vinegar and water
- Avoid heavy use of in-home air fresheners
- Don’t overuse aerosol sprays (e.g. hairspray, deodorant, etc.)
- Drink filtered water
- Don’t spray for bugs and rodents inside your home: Keep your home clean, use bait traps and (if necessary) hire only a licensed pest control expert
- Always rinse vegetables and fruits with warm water or scrub with a clean brush if needed. Produce labeled “pre-washed” or “ready to eat” does not need to be rinsed.
- Use BPA-free products (BPA is a chemical used in food containers and packing, and many hygiene products)
- Talk to your company about potential toxins you may be exposed to in the workplace
Look for ways to reduce stress and increase rest
Stress can impact your health in a lot of different ways. Stress can cause physical symptoms like increased heart rate, high blood pressure, headaches, fatigue, muscle soreness and upset stomach. Stress can affect your mood, making you feel anxious, overwhelmed, restless or irritable. Stress can also lead to behavior changes like overeating or undereating, social withdrawal or angry outbursts.
The bottom line? Stress can negatively impact your overall health and well-being – which can impact your fertility and your eventual pregnancy. So, look for ways to reduce stress and destress, as well as get more rest.
We know, we know. Easier said than done, right? But here are a few suggestions for how to reduce stress when trying to conceive:
- Busy schedule – If your schedule is hectic, look for ways to cut back on your commitments or delegate responsibilities. For example, if you host a monthly book club, ask another member to take over for a while. If you have a lot of errands to run, ask your partner to pitch in. If you need to hit the grocery store, consider using a delivery service.
- Work – If you’re stressed about work, talk to your supervisor about getting a little extra support or changing up your schedule.
- Finances – If you’re stressed about finances, make a budget tracker with your partner. Also review your insurance coverage for prenatal care, postpartum care and pediatric care, and learn about your company’s maternity leave policy. This can help you prepare for what’s to come.
- Intimacy – If you’re stressed about the time you and your partner will spend trying to conceive, know that you’re not alone. When trying to conceive, many couples feel like sex can turn into a chore. So, try to carve out additional time for you and your partner to connect – inside and outside the bedroom.
If you think you need a little help to reduce stress, talk with your primary care doctor. They can work with you to manage your stress and connect you with a mental health specialist if needed.
Schedule your next trip to the dentist
Your oral health is an important part of your overall health. Plus, hormonal changes – not to mention more frequent snacking and morning sickness – during pregnancy can affect your teeth and gums. So, good daily brushing habits and keeping up on your regular trips to the dentist are important.
Pregnancy planning Part 3: Get busy
Use pregnancy-friendly lubricants
Lubricants help make sex more enjoyable and comfortable – especially when you’re trying to get pregnant. But the vast majority of lubricants aren’t designed for trying-to-conceive couples. These lubricants can be harmful to sperm, interfering with sperm motility, integrity and survival.
Fertility-friendly lubricants mimic the consistency of your cervical mucus and provide a protective environment for sperm as they make their way through your reproductive system. Ask your doctor, midwife or nurse practitioner for a safe recommendation.
Sex is an important part of the baby making equation. So, if you’re ready to start trying for a baby, make regular lovemaking a priority.
Be spontaneous yet committed to regular sex. Don’t worry about timing at first, just focus on having unprotected sex frequently throughout your cycle, and use your fertility tracking journal or app to record the days you have sex.
Start preparing your mind and body for pregnancy today
This is such an exciting time in life for you and your partner – and a little planning can go a long way.
Get started by putting aside your birth control, tracking your cycle to get more familiar with your body and making a preconception appointment. Then focus on things like adding a daily prenatal vitamin, diet and exercise, kicking bad habits and so on. Finally, let the practice begin. Get a fertility-friendly lubricant and start your baby-making sessions. You’ll be scheduling your first prenatal appointment before you know it.
We also have a robust pregnancy resource guide that connects you with all kinds of tips and information to help you on your pregnancy journey.