Monday, April 8, 2013

Preconception Checklist: 100 Things To Do Before Trying To Conceive (Part 2)

Finally, I have had time to compose the second post in my 4-part series about preconception preparation.  Below are 25 tips and suggestions I have gleaned from a variety of sources that ideally would be considered at least 6-12 months before TTC:


1.  Get to know other parents and families in your area.  Try to add some parents with small children into your social network, if you haven’t already.  It doesn’t have to be all at once, but it will help if you already know some neighbors or have a few friends with kids when your little one arrives on the scene.  This doesn’t mean you will have to abandon all of your non-parent friends, but you will soon need other types of support relationships in your life.  (Of course, remember to start the relationship by getting to know the parents, not by approaching kids who don’t know you.)
2.  Consider volunteering to babysit for a new parent you know, or just to come by the house and help out while mom or dad is home, to initiate a relationship. (Note: Don't be offended if first-time parents aren't willing to leave their precious one alone with you.  It's nothing personal.)
3.  Think about joining a group that provides help to new moms (e.g., a church meals ministry or a stork club).  Not only could this help you to meet other new parents, but will increase the chances you will be able to receive helpful services when you have a new baby at home.
4.  If you can, ask parents you know about their experience with different health care providers and birthing facilities that are available to you.  They are the ones who really know what it will be like working with a particular doctor or giving birth in a specific hospital.  If you don’t know anyone you can ask, search around online for community advice.
5.  Take a preconception vacation with your significant other or family.  Although many people now go on a babymoon, you may be more limited in where you can go and what you can do when you are pregnant.  This may be your last chance for a while to go on that big trip you always wanted to take but never found the time for. 


6.  If you plan to work through your pregnancy, make sure you have good disability insurance that will help out with expenses if you are required to be on bed rest for some or most of your pregnancy due to health complications and risks.  Getting this kind of coverage before you are pregnant will be much easier, and some bed rest is not uncommon in the later months of pregnancy.  You don’t want to have to disobey doctor’s orders because of financial concerns.

Physical & Mental Health

7.  Start a deliberate prenatal fitness plan (work up your exercise endurance so you can maintain it once you are pregnant—many doctors will tell you not to start a new exercise routine once you conceive). 
8.  Consider incorporating prenatal yoga or beginner’s yoga into your workout activities.  It has been reported to have many helpful benefits for pregnant women, such as reducing physical complaints during pregnancy, improving flexibility and endurance for childbirth, and decreasing stress.  I am not claiming these effects have been scientifically supported (I would need to do more research to be confident), but it still seems like it’s not a bad idea and there may even be compelling evidence out there I don’t know about.   
9.  Begin to cut back on caffeine and alcohol to prepare for a more drastic reduction just before TTC—this will reduce your dependence and get you ready to go cold turkey without negative side effects.  (An added benefit of reducing alcohol now is that it will make it harder for friends and acquaintances to spot the exact moment you know you are pregnant.  If, like myself, you are terrible at any kind of deception, you will probably want to avoid arousing pregnancy suspicions before you are ready to tell anyone.)
10.  Come up with a list of targeted questions for potential prenatal care providers.  Ask about their philosophy and practice—beliefs about pregnancy weight gain, cesarean rate, opinions about natural birth, when they would recommend an induction, etc.  There are some standard questions that you are supposed to ask, but I think the most important questions are the ones that particularly worry or concern you.  If you don’t care one way or the other about being induced, for instance, you might want to save your questions for more important topics.  Everyone always says to ask everything you want to know, but I find that in a medical setting it is usually hard for me to get out more than a few questions before I start to feel self-conscious.  It could happen to you, too.
11.  Start a deliberate stress reduction plan.  Schedule yoga, meditation, mindfulness practices, or free time and stick to it now through birth and beyond.  Stress can interfere with fertility, worsen pregnancy symptoms, and even make childbirth more difficult.  Plus, it can increase your risk for pregnancy complications and make you a less happy new mom.  Try to remove some of the stress from your life now while you can.
12.  Do a thorough toxicity assessment of your home.  Now is a good time to start switching to gentler or possibly natural household cleaners and products.  You may also want to start looking for pregnancy-friendly products for moms, such as lotions and acne treatments, makeup, hair products, and nail care items.  This is a situation in which a preconception guide such as Before Your Pregnancy would really come in handy.


13.  If you are religious, decide whether your current house of worship has the services you want for kids/families (active kid’s ministry and youth group, a comfort room where parents of small infants can take crying babies but still listen to the sermon, a nursery that makes you feel comfortable, help for new moms via babysitting or meal deliveries, a good number of attending families with young children of different ages, etc.).
14.  If you feel your current religious practice or house of worship isn’t going to work once your family grows, start looking around for family-friendly religious communities in your area and plug in now.  I have anecdotal evidence that it is very difficult to try out new churches with an infant. 


15.  Start a special savings plan or even a separate savings account for pregnancy/birth expenses.  Pregnancy and birth can be expensive, especially if anything unusual happens with the pregnancy.  Save in a special fund that can go to unexpected medical expenses if needed or else can be used to buy desired items for the baby.
16.  Research ways to save money on pregnancy and childbirth costs, if that is a concern for you.  Consider all the major expenses and look for low-cost alternatives:  used maternity clothes, free prenatal care, programs that cover healthy food for pregnant women and children, baby item swap meets, Craigslist, hand me downs, etc.  Lists of frugal parenting tips abound online.  Just be sure to also figure out which things are NOT worth trying to save on.  Items that concern your safety or your baby's safety, such as car seats, are not safe to reuse unless you are sure you know the history of the item. 


17.  Draft a will.  If you think you can tackle a draft on your own, give it a try (there are lots of websites that give step-by-step instructions of how to compose a legal will).  If this isn't something you feel comfortable doing yourself, now might be a good time to obtain some legal advice. 
18.  Determine if any major changes to your current residence need to be made (this assumes you have already moved if necessary, as per the previous list).  If any major renovations are required to make room for a baby (e.g., installation of a bathtub, structural modification of a room into a nursery, removal of dangerous design element, etc.) start working on these now. It's not necessary at this point to decorate or buy furniture.  Most will want to wait until successful conception for that bit.
19.  Consider whether you will need a more family-friendly vehicle.  If yes, time to start shopping.  And don’t forget to factor in car seat fit in the back seat (including the fit for multiple children, if that is your plan).
20.  Figure out the details of prenatal care and childbirth coverage from your insurance provider.  Is all prenatal care completely covered, maybe even without copays?  Will they cover items like prenatal vitamins?  How much would be covered for a routine vaginal birth or a Cesarean? What about other needs like lactation consultants?  What if your pregnancy becomes high risk and you need to see specialists and have extra doctor’s visits?
21.  Explore local resources for pregnant women and new moms in your community, such as prenatal yoga sessions, parenting classes, La Leche League, childbirth classes, walking clubs, play groups, and stork clubs.
22.  Assess your pet situation.  Are you currently a no-pet family but want to have a pet when you have a baby in the house (there is some evidence that early exposure to pets can reduce the frequency of childhood illnesses and asthma, in addition to their benefits to well-being)?  Having a dog that needs walking can also encourage you and your little one to get outside more in the early days.  If you have cats, who will change their litter box during the pregnancy?  Does your current dog need more obedience training to be ready for a baby or small child?  Think about what kind of exposure to animals you want your little one to have and figure out what changes to make in your pet situation now.  Getting a puppy and bringing home a newborn in the same week is probably ill-advised, so decide now how your furry (or scaly or feathery) family is going to look. 
23.  While I do not advocate giving up pets just because of a change in lifestyle or stage, you may feel that you just can’t keep one or more of your current pets.  If this is definitely your situation, start planning now to find them the best possible new home. 

Fertility & Alternate Plans

24.  If you currently use oral contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, figure out what alternate contraception you might want to use before trying to conceive (if you want to have a few months to track your menstrual cycle, get back to normal, and reliably identify ovulation).  Discuss with your significant other, if applicable.
25.  If artificial insemination is a possibility or your main option, start researching sources of donor sperm.  Consider available clinics and find out what information you can know about the donors.  Think about what information you would want/need to have to feel comfortable. 

What other tips would you suggest for women who are thinking about trying to conceive but still have a while to go before beginning the process?  What preparations did you or do you plan to make 6 to 12 months before trying to get pregnant for the first time?

*For further reading, see Before Your Pregnancy: A 90-Day Guide for Couples on How to Prepare for a Healthy Conception. Although the title references the popular 3-month timeline, the guide provides comprehensive coverage of most preconception topics and is not very fixated on the time aspect.