Health and lifestyle issues
Genetic counseling or genetic testing
(age, family history, ethnic background)
Know details about your family’s health
history and your mother’s obstetrical
Know your own gynecological and
obstetrical history (abnormal PAP
smears, history of STDs, prior surgery,
miscarriages, abortions, etc.)
If there are issues you’d rather not
discuss in front of your partner, let your
healthcare provider know ahead of time.
Make sure you’re up to date on your
vaccinations. Your healthcare provider
will want to check that you’re immune to
both chicken pox and rubella. Both are
live vaccines, so you should have these
vaccines at least four weeks before you
start trying to conceive.
One-third of women with diabetes are
so symptom-free that they aren’t even
aware that they have the disease. Risk
factors include being overweight, not
exercising regularly, having developed
gestational diabetes during a previous
pregnancy, and being related to
someone with diabetes.
If you are diabetic, your odds of having
a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby
increase if you are able to get your
blood sugar under control before you
become pregnant and keep it under
control during pregnancy. That means
balancing eating with exercise,
maintaining a healthy weight, and taking
any medications that are prescribed by
If you have high blood pressure,
epilepsy, heart disease, lupus,
phenylketonuria (PKU), or any other
serious health problem, your doctor will
want to ensure that your condition is
under control and verify the safety of
any medications you may be taking.
If you’re currently being treated for
depression or anxiety or you’ve
struggled with mood disorders in the
past, your health care provider may
want to switch you to a different
medication or come up with an alternate
treatment game plan once you start
trying to conceive.
In addition to encouraging you to eat
well, exercise, and pay attention to your
need for sleep, your caregiver may
encourage you to write out a plan that
spells out all the specific strategies that
have worked well for managing your
mood disorder in the past.
Your medicine cabinet is likely filled with
over-the-counter and herbal products.
They may contain ingredients that could
affect your fertility or be harmful to you
or your baby-to-be. Don’t take a chance:
find out what is and isn’t safe for you
and your partner to take once you start
trying to conceive.
Rx: Healthy you
Contraceptive game plan
If you’re on the pill, it could take a few
months for ovulation to resume—or you
could start ovulating almost right away.
(Use a back-up method of birth control.)
If you’ve been using Depo-Provera, it
could take up to a year for ovulation to
kick in, so allow some extra lead time.
Visit your dentist
Gum disease increases the risk of a
preterm delivery, so you want to make
sure that you’re in good dental health.
And if you do need dental treatment, it’s
best to schedule any x-rays and
treatments involving medications before
you start trying to conceive.
Employers are required to provide
employees with details about the types
of materials they are working with on
the job. Your partner should also do
some digging, even though it can be
difficult to get some employers to
acknowledge that reproductive health
issues are an issue for fathers, too.
Get the Folic Acid Facts
Most North American women only
consume 100 mcg of folic acid through
food sources (roughly 1/4 of what we
need). Note: If you have previously
given birth to a child with a neural tube
defect or you have diabetes or epilepsy,
you will need approximately 10 times
the recommended amount.
Take folic acid throughout your
Realize that folic acid is for Dads, too (it
helps to maintain sperm counts).
Dads also need zinc (which helps to
improve sperm volume), and vitamin C
(which helps to improve sperm
Eat a variety of whole grains, fruits, and
vegetables each day, and reduce your
intake of fat. Focus on foods that are
rich in iron and calcium and—if your
healthcare provider recommends it—
consider taking a multivitamin
supplement, too. (Don’t overdue it with
vitamins A or D. Too much of either
nutrient can be unhealthy for the baby
you hope to conceive.)
Don’t crash diet right before or during
pregnancy. If you’re heavier than you’d
like to be, try to get to within 15 lbs of
your goal weight before becoming
pregnant and then switch to a
maintenance diet of 1800 calories per
day while you’re trying to conceive.
Be Weight Wise
Obese mothers face an increased risk
of experiencing a number of pregnancy
and birth-related complications,
including high blood pressure,
gestational diabetes, giving birth to an
overly big baby, and a higher rate of
Of course, it’s not healthy to be
seriously underweight either. Women
who are too thin are at risk of
experiencing fertility problems, of giving
weight to a low birthweight baby, of
experiencing a preterm delivery, or of
Being physically active during
pregnancy can help you to deal with
some of the less-than-wonderful
aspects of pregnancy: backache, leg
cramps, and breathlessness. It also
boosts your energy, improves your
mood, and helps you to cope with
Physically active women find it easier to
keep their pregnancy weight gain on
track and to manage the pain of labor—
two more great reasons to get fit now.
Note: Ask your doctor if you have any
health conditions that would make
physical activity inadvisable for you now
or once you become pregnant.
Kick Some Butts
A woman who smokes is less fertile and
she faces an increased risk of
miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm delivery,
and of giving birth to a low birthweight
baby, or a baby with breathing
difficulties, learning and behavioral
problems, or of losing a baby to sudden
infant death syndrome (SIDS).
And a recent study conducted at the
University of Pittsburgh School of Public
Health concluded that, from the
standpoint of the developing baby,
there’s no appreciable difference
between being exposed to second-hand
smoke and having a mother who
smokes. So tell your partner to “butt
No one has ever been able to determine
a safe level of alcohol consumption
Stop drinking once you start trying to
Ditch the drinks
and the drugs
Moms who drink during pregnancy face
an increased risk of miscarriage,
stillbirth, of giving birth to a low birth
weight baby, and of giving birth to a
baby with potentially severe birth defect.
Drug use during pregnancy can have
equally devastating consequences for
the developing baby.
The party lifestyle can also take its toll
on the male reproductive system.
Alcohol can bring down sperm counts,
and marijuana makes it difficult for
sperm to travel toward and penetrate
You don’t have to cut out caffeine
entirely, but because excessive caffeine
intake has been linked to both fertility
problems and an increased risk of
miscarriage, moderation is definitely the
name of the game.
Go easy with the java
Find out about food safety
Steer clear of raw fish as well as fish
that contain potentially risky levels of
mercury; undercooked meat, poultry,
seafood, hot dogs, and deli meats;
refrigerated patés or meat spreads;
refrigerated smoked seafood (unless it
has been cooked); soft-scrambled eggs
and all foods made with raw or lightly
cooked eggs; unpasteurized soft
cheeses; unpasteurized milk
and foods made from unpasteurized
milk; unpasteurized juices; raw
vegetable sprouts, including alfalfa,
clover, and radish; herbal supplements
and teas; and foods that may trigger a
food allergy in babies born to parents
with a history of food allergies. (Consult
a food allergy specialist for details in
planning your pregnancy diet if you or
your partner has a history of food
Let other people handle household
chores that could be hazardous to you
and your baby-to-be (e.g., using paints,
solvents, or pesticides; changing kitty
litter; and cleaning rodent cages or any
messes created by wild mice).
Delegate the dirty work
Keep your cool, Dad
Wearing boxers or no underwear at all
results in a lower scrotal temperature
(and a more sperm-friendly
environment) than wearing briefs.
Working with a laptop on your lap can
be detrimental to sperm, as can wearing
bicycle shorts and riding for more than
two hours a day, six days a week; or
hanging out in hot tub and saunas.
And Mom, too....
Overheating related to hot tub use has
been linked to an increased risk of birth
defects. The experts advise that
prospective mothers avoid any activity
that could cause their temperature to
soar above 102°F. That includes
vigorous exercise on hot days, too.
Give some thought to workouts you can
enjoy with your partner and your baby.
Go on walks or hikes with other families
Sign up for parent-and-baby fitness
Do a childcare swap with another
couple with a baby so that you can take
turns hitting the gym with your partner.
Set up a workout area at home (it could
be as simple as a collection of workout
DVDs and an area to work out in front of
the TV, with a baby swing in close
Give some thought about how you’re
going to get healthy meals on the table
in your post-baby universe. Consider
Looking for healthy “convenience foods”
(remember convenience foods don’t
have to mean junk)
Batch cooking (tripling a recipe; making
extra meals on the weekend)
Making lists of easy meals that you love
(your own recipes; friends’ recipes; etc.)
Cooperative cooking (supper clubs,
getting together with a group of friends
to do some batch cooking together,
going to a mealtime preparation facility,
Breastfeed your baby. It’s the healthiest
and most convenient feeding choice
Take care of your physical health:
sleep, exercise, healthy nutrition, time
for fun, relaxation management
techniques (for some people,
If you drink, drink in moderation. And
make sure you understand the risks
associated with intoxication and bed
Exposure to second-hand smoke is
associated with an increased risk of
sudden-infant death syndrome.
Continue to make your relationship as a
couple a priority, even though you’ll be
busy meeting your baby’s needs (25%
of new parents are no longer together
by first child’s fifth birthday).
Focus on the other key relationships in
your life: friends and family. These
people are your support network for the
times when the going gets rough.
Don’t neglect your own personal need
for fun and self-fulfillment. Try to find
time to do some of the activities that you
enjoyed before you started your family,
even if it’s just one afternoon or evening
a month initially.
Make sleep a priority for your new
family. Accept offers of help from other
people so that you and your partner can
maximize your opportunities for sleep.
Chronic sleep deprivation will make you
moodier, less creative, more irritable,
and less able to deal with the
challenges of new parenthood.
Be sleep savvy
Learn as much as you can about infant
sleep patterns so that you won’t be
frustrated about your baby’s sleep
patterns—and you won’t feel pressured
to solve a “sleep problem” that isn’t
really a sleep problem after all.
Learn which techniques tend to be most
effective in soothing newborns and
encouraging newborns to go to sleep.
Realize that there’s no one-size-fits-all
sleep solution. It’s important to take into
your baby’s temperament and stage of
your parenting style; and
your family’s unique needs and
circumstances when you’re trying to decide
which approach to take in dealing with your
baby’s sleep problems.
Set aside time to think these issues
through yourself and to talk about them
with your partner. Here are some of the
important issues that you should plan to
talk about both prior to the birth of your
baby and on an ongoing basis during
the early years.
Conceive of the type of parent
you want to be
How would you describe your parenting
What kind of parent do you want to be?
What kind of parenting style can you
see yourself having: authoritarian,
Think about how you’re going to make
sense of all the conflicting parenting
Understand that there’s often more than
one “right way” to do things when it
comes to parenting: your partner’s way
may not be the wrong way, just because
it’s not your way
Think about ways of handling disputes
over child-rearing issues when you’re
sleep-deprived and your sense of
humour has gone AWOL.
Ann Douglas is the author of
Sleep Solutions for
Your Baby, Toddler, and
Mealtime Solutions for
Your Baby, Toddler, and
and the bestselling books
in The Mother of All Books