We don’t always get to plan pregnancies; they have a tendency to come along just when we’ve got our dream job or are in the middle of a house renovation. But just like a house renovation or big project at work, planning this life-changing event, makes everything so much easier. If you have the luxury of pre-planning your pregnancy, here are 15 things you need to know.
1. Start Folic Acid Early
Folic acid is an important vitamin in pregnancy, as it helps prevent birth defects such as Spina Bifuda – a neural tube defect that can develop in a growing foetus. Many women don’t discover they are pregnant until quite a few weeks after conception, which makes getting enough folic acid into your system tricky. The recommended dose is 400mgs a day, for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy when the baby’s spine is developing.
Start taking a daily folic acid supplement two months before you plan to get pregnant and for at least the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. You can top up your levels by eating foods rich in folate such as broccoli, avocado, leafy greens, seeds and nuts and bell peppers.
2. Have a finance chat
If you’re used to getting your own wage and managing finances, it can be a real shock when your maternity pay comes in and doesn’t quite cover the bills. It’s a good idea to have a chat with your partner before you embark on pregnancy to work out how you’ll get by, who will go back to work when the baby is born and how long you’ll be off work for.
Handy tip: You might think you’ll be eager to return to your job, but the reality is, once you meet your baby, everything changes, and workaholics can abandon career goals in favour of sing-along time at the baby drop-in-centre. Try to keep an open mind and don’t promise work the date you’ll return – it’s your choice and you don’t have to tell them until just before your maternity leave is over.
If you are freelance and your wage completely stops, (or your maternity pay goes under 50%) consider setting up a direct debit from your partner’s bank account to yours every month. That way when the balance shifts, you won’t be asking for money each month which can feel demeaning when you’re used to earning a wage.
3. The lack of pregnancy ‘glow’
“I really wish someone had warned me the pregnancy ‘glow’ would bypass me,” says new mum Natalie. “I had spots on my face and my back, blotchy red skin, puffy ankles and greasy hair. Not a ‘glow’ in sight.”
Pregnancy hormones oestrogen and progesterone in your system are thought to be responsible for that ‘glowing look’ some women experience, but also the extra blood your body is producing to support your growing baby. With extra blood, comes a secretion of oil from the sebum glands which explains why some women get spotty skin. The good news is this normally settles down in the second trimester (from week 13 to week 28).
Drink plenty of water to hydrate yourself and your skin and before your get pregnant switch to skin creams that are water-based not oil-based. Try La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane Sensitive Crème (£16), a moisturising cream great for dry or oily skin as it rebalances and hydrates at the same time. Not only dermatologist-approved and has a thumbs up from Allergy UK, but Roche-Posay claims says it’s suitable for babies too!
4. Don’t be tempted by Dr Google
Try to resist the temptation to self-diagnose every tiny thing that happens to you both when trying to conceive and once pregnant. Anxiety and worrying about the changes in your body and baby is really common especially with a first pregnancy and you will find yourself googling all sorts at 3am. Try to get information, especially about health, from one reliable source.
Block out any pregnancy and birth ‘horror’ stories other mums tell you. All pregnancies and births are completely different and just because your best friend gave birth in 20 minutes, doesn’t mean you will. I have an identical twin and during our pregnancies (her three, me four) we haven’t had any similar pregnancy ailments, experiences or births – they’ve all been completely different. Your pregnancy will be unique and special and your own.
Buy a couple of reliable trusted pregnancy books such as What to Expect when you are Expecting: By Heidi Murkoff and stick to those for your pregnancy facts rather googling.
5. Limit the caffeine
One of the annoying things about pregnancy is feeling incredibly tired, but not being able to make yourself a coffee. Research into the effects of drinking large amounts of caffeine in pregnancy (4-5 cups a day) show it can cause miscarriage and has been linked to babies born with a low birthweight. There are also studies showing caffeine can lower your chances of falling pregnant. With this in mind, if you’re planning a pregnancy, it’s best to cut caffeine out completely for now, so you can wean yourself off before you get pregnant.
Don’t forget that caffeine can also be found in energy drinks, chocolate, tea and hot chocolate and even decaffeinated coffee contains small amounts of caffeine.
6. Sleep as much as possible
When I asked a handful of friends what they wished they’d planned for pre-baby they all said lack of sleep. Their collective suggestion was to stock up on sleep before you’re pregnant, because pregnancy also hinders sleep. Your hormones, body temperature and body shape constantly changing, not to mention the frequent night trips to the loo as your baby pushes against your bladder, all contribute to fitful sleep. Get as much sleep as you can before you become pregnant; lie in at the weekends, take naps (just because you can) and make sure you’re getting the recommended amount of 7-9 hours a night. That way when you become pregnant and the sleeplessness kicks in you can remember those lazy Sunday mornings when you didn’t get up until 2pm.
Start positive bedtime rituals now before you’re pregnant. Follow our Selfish Darling guide to getting more sleep to help establish better sleep routines.
7. Think about where you live
The nesting instinct is a biological urge pregnant women have to ‘nest’ or create a safe and homely environment before they go into labour. Animals and insects also experience it and it can be a signal labour is imminent. This is probably the reason many of us end up scrolling through Rightmove dreaming of moving to a new house or starting a home renovation during pregnancy.
Take a close look at where you live before you become pregnant. Is your house or flat suitable for a new baby? Is a top floor flat going to cause problems with a buggy or is the lack of outside space going to be an issue? Pre-empt this by planning a house move or renovation before you are pregnant, rather than when your belly is huge, and you can’t lift anything. You can go one step further and look at local school catchment areas to plan a move close to your primary school of choice – this takes pre-planning to the next level!
8. Book a holiday
Packing with a newborn and jamming baby paraphernalia into a suitcase just doesn’t have the same appeal as heading off on a romantic adventure when it was just the two of you. Get that once in a lifetime holiday in now, travel the world, ski the alps, crew on a tall ship, or volunteer on a remote island while you still can. Soon you’ll be tied down to only travelling during school holidays when airlines and hotels hike their prices up especially for families.
9. Ask your mum or grandmother about their pregnancies
“I had pre-eclampsia with my firstborn which resulted in an emergency C-section and my baby being born prematurely,” explains Helen, mum of two. “I wish I’d quizzed my mum and Gran about their pregnancies, because it turns out they both experienced exactly the same symptoms with their firstborns, and it could have helped me spot the signs earlier.”
Ask about what usual or unusual pregnancy symptoms your mum/sister/grandmother had and any complications that occurred. Also ask about premature labour, how big their babies were, morning sickness and how they recovered post-birth especially their health and wellbeing. There is no guarantee your pregnancy will be anything like there’s, but knowledge and preparation will help you prepare just in case.
10. Colour your hair
No-one really knows the effects of dyeing your hair during pregnancy and whether it’s safe for the developing foetus. Some studies say it’s fine as long as you don’t dye it more than four times, some studies say the chemical compounds in hair dyes can have an adverse effect on the developing baby. With this in mind, it’s good to have a plan in place before you get pregnant. Could you grow out a hair colour beforehand or switch to highlights instead of an all over dye? Pure Henna is safe to use as are some vegetable dyes (although they often contain the same chemicals as normal dyes so check the ingredients).
If you can’t avoid dyeing your hair, at least hold off dyeing in the first trimester when the baby’s organs are forming. Plan to have your hair dyed when you are planning to conceive and re-do it once you’ve safely reached the second trimester.
11. Can the birth plan
A birth plan is basically a document that shows the midwives what you’d ‘ideally’ like the birth of your child to be like. For example, do you want pain relief drugs during labour, or a natural birth? Do you want to be active, lying down or give birth in water? Do you want to breastfeed as soon as your baby is born? It’s a good idea to think of these things and write them down so you (and your birth partner) know your choices. However, during my births, not once did anyone ask to see my birth plan whilst I was in labour. All four births had unexpected things happening and nothing really went to plan so the best advice is to write a plan – but keep an open mind!
There are heaps of apps that can help you plan your birth (and at least it’s there on your phone rather than a flimsy bit of paper like I had!) There are also apps which ‘coach you’ through labour with breathing exercises and timers. Try Freya – the birth companion, Easy Birth Plan or My Birth Wishes.
12. Babyproof your relationship
Having a baby puts a massive strain on any relationship (even perfect couples feel the strain). It’s a good idea to have a pre-planning chat before you transition to being parents, so you both know what the other expects. The good news is, most couples navigate successfully though this stage and not only go on to have more children; but are stronger because of it.
Have a chat about the shift in your new duties i.e. you’ll be at home with the baby whilst your partner will continue to provide financially. Talk about household chores being shared especially when you are exhausted and whether your partner will do night-time feeds. It’s a good idea to cover issues like when you’ll tell both sets of parents you’re expecting, what their grandparent names will be (nanny, Granda etc) and whether you both want to find out the sex of your baby. Baby names are a contentious issue – have the chat now rather than three days after your child is born and you’re fighting about whether to choose Cedric or Tarquin.
13. Enjoy being alone
“To put it simply, I’m never alone,” laughs mum-of-two, Katrina. “My kids follow me into the loo, the shower, they wake me up first thing in the morning and during the night! I love them so much but hanker after my pre-children days when I’d spend a whole day alone with a good book.”
Before you become pregnant, plan days where you do exactly what you want to do. Go for a hike, read a book, do a yoga weekend or spend hours making a complicated recipe. Whatever it is, relish being alone, not having to talk to anyone and being your own boss.
14. Get healthy
Pregnancy takes a toll on your body, but being as healthy as possible before you get pregnant will help both with conception and carrying a baby for nine months. Keeping a healthy weight – making sure your body mass index (BMI) is in the healthy range for your age and height, will mean you have a lower risk of pregnancy complications when you do become pregnant – being overweight in pregnancy means you’re more likely to experience gestational diabetes and high-blood pressure.
If you’re not pregnant yet, now is the perfect time to take up some cardio exercise and get your body strong and fit. Start slowly, if you embark on a new exercise regime, give your body and muscles time to adjust. The NHS couch to 5k plan gives you an easy running plan to follow on a podcast and is for complete beginners.
Whatever you choose, make sure it’s fun – from swimming to yoga or dance – if you enjoy it, you’re far more likely to stick to it.
15. There’s so much help
“I really wish I’d known how much help there was available to me,” says new mum Lucy. “There are postnatal depression support groups, new mum groups, chat forums where everyone else is in the same week of pregnancy as you and the loveliest Health Visitor who looked out for me in the first few days of having a newborn.”
Lucy is right, from Fertility Network UK to The National Breastfeeding Helpline (0300 100 0212) there’s so much more support available to us now compared to what our mothers and grandmothers had.
Ask your GP or midwife to give you a list of local support groups or helplines that can help you get through what will be the most challenging but also the most rewarding experience of your life.
Have we missed anything, or do you have another awesome tip? Let us know below!