Here is a guide to help you plan for your pregnancy physically, financially and emotionally.
Physical preparation for pregnancy
You don’t need to be a top athlete to have a baby – but it’s a great idea to get your body ready before you try to conceive.
Have a look at your lifestyle – do you have a healthy diet? Are you getting regular exercise? Do you smoke, or drink coffee or alcohol? What medications, herbal preparations or drugs (legal or otherwise) do you take regularly?
And although women need to prepare their bodies for pregnancy, men also play a pretty important role in the conception stage. In fact, it’s worth making sure you are both involved in getting physically ready.
Regular gentle exercise can usually continue throughout conception and pregnancy. It is wise to discuss your exercise regime with your doctor to make sure that you can keep up your present activity.
Eating and drinking when you’re planning for pregnancy
Follow general healthy eating principles to prepare your body to make and carry a baby; and cut down on harmful extras like alcohol, coffee, tobacco and non-essential drugs.
Good nutrition during pregnancy
Women should also try to increase their intake of folic acid (a vitamin present in green leafy vegetables and some cereals) for three months before they try to conceive, to prevent neural tube defects. Keep up the folic acid intake until three months into a pregnancy; many good folic acid supplements are available in pharmacies.
Men aren’t off the hook when it comes to eating sensibly. Sperm takes about two to three months to fully mature and some researchers recommend that men ensure they are eating a healthy diet, rich in anti-oxidants to improve sperm health.
Fish is a major source of omega-3 fatty acids (specifically DHA and EPA), which are important for a baby's brain and eye development, but because mercury can accumulate in your body and linger there for more than a year, it's best to avoid high-mercury fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish while you're trying to conceive. Instead, eat lower-mercury fish such as salmon, canned light tuna (skipjack), snapper and trout once or twice a week. If you’re not sure what to do or what not to do, talk to your doctor or a trusted nutritionist to get the full story.
You can also read our article on eating healthy during your pregnancy for more.
Try to plan a visit to your General Practitioner before you start trying for a baby. Knowing your medical history, doing some simple tests and identifying some precautions that you in particular may need to take, can make your pregnancy planning much smoother.
Before you visit your doctor, though, there’s some information that you need to gather:
Make a detailed list of your medical history
It’s worth making the struggle to recall those long-forgotten childhood illnesses. Have you had measles, mumps or rubella? What is your immunisation history? What other illnesses have you had? Any sexually transmitted diseases that either partner has experienced may be relevant; also note any surgery or chronic conditions for either of you.
Talk to your parents and your partner’s parents – or perhaps other relatives – to find out more details about both your childhood illnesses – and also, your families’ genetic histories. Are there twins in the family? What about inherited diseases?
Some diseases are particularly relevant to pregnancy; for example, are you predisposed to diabetes or heart disease? Gather information about serious illnesses that you have had or that appear regularly in your family – like high blood pressure, cancer, epilepsy, kidney disease or arthritis.
A woman’s gynaecological history is important at this time; you will be asked about menstrual patterns, sexual history, Pap smear history, use of birth control and any previous pregnancies, miscarriages, births, and about any other gynaecological issues. If you haven’t kept a menstrual diary in the past, you might consider doing so now.
Sometimes, delving into your family history may uncover information about blood relatives with hereditary disorders. Family history may mean that you may (or may not) have a greater risk of passing on genetic disorders (like cystic fibrosis), chromosomal disorders (such as Down’s syndrome) or congenital defects (like cleft palate).
Some of the more common genetic diseases include haemophilia, muscular dystrophy, Thalassemia, Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell anaemia and cystic fibrosis.
A specialist genetic counsellor can help you understand your risk of passing on a hereditary disease and how you might manage this risk, or what other decisions you might make. Other reasons to seek genetic counselling may include a history of repeated miscarriages or a blood relationship between partners. Your doctor can arrange a referral if you are concerned.
You can visit South African Genetic Counselling site for more information.
The pre-pregnancy doctor’s visit
At this visit, you can talk to your doctor about your plans and have a full medical check-up. A basic examination will include heart-rate, blood pressure, a breast check and Pap smear (if this is due).
Your doctor may order some blood and urine tests; for example, your doctor may check that you have antibodies to rubella (also called German measles), as exposure in early pregnancy can often cause birth defects like deafness. Even immunised women may lose immunity, so you may face another vaccination and then a three-month delay in conception to prevent your baby being exposed to the virus, which is still quite common.
In pregnancy, rapid hormone changes can trigger all sorts of reactions; you can discuss these with your doctor in light of your own medical history. Having a record of your blood pressure before pregnancy also makes it easier to monitor changes in blood pressure during pregnancy that may indicate potential problems like preeclampsia, which can be managed with early intervention.
Discuss your current contraception with your doctor, so that you have a plan in place for stopping contraception before trying to conceive. If condoms or diaphragms are used, little planning is required, but those on the pill or with an intrauterine device (IUD) or implanted contraceptives may need to stop contraception up to a few months before attempting to conceive.
You can also talk to your doctor about your plans for pregnancy care; you may choose to be referred to an obstetrician, a midwife, a hospital birth centre, or to have shared care between your General Practitioner and a specialist.
Financial planning – preparing for a family
It’s true, babies don’t need much in the early days, despite the masses of baby gear available in shops. The most difficult thing for most couples to handle is the loss of income when the baby’s primary caregiver stops working. If you both choose to continue working, childcare can also be very costly.
If you haven’t already done so, a visit to an accredited financial planner may help you identify how to manage your finances for your new family.
Planning your work for pregnancy and baby
Some careers are more family-friendly than others. If you are in a role that you don’t wish to continue during pregnancy or beyond, you may want to think about how you will handle this.
In order to qualify for paternity leave, a father must be employed for at least four months before he is eligible for parental leave – called family responsibility leave. A pregnant woman is allowed four months maternity leave, so make sure you have considered the implications of pregnancy if you are thinking about changing your work plans.
More information about pregnancy and work is available here on the Huggies® website.
You can read more about maternity leave here: Labour Relations Act - basic guide to maternity leave
Building your relationship
Although the majority of new parents still assume the traditional roles of male provider and female carer, most don’t discuss their new roles and responsibilities.
New parents often have unspoken expectations about what their partner should do, what each parent should provide, and even basic details about domestic duties, based on their own family background. Any expectations that haven’t been communicated can lead to conflict.
Before having a baby, partners should discuss how they will share household duties outside working hours, and how each partner will get some time out alone after their baby is born.
Is your medical insurance adequate?
Obstetric-, midwifery- and private hospital care during pregnancy and birth can be very expensive, so it is wise to ensure you have adequate medical cover.
When all your plans are in place, you are ready for the fun bit – conception