Ready, Set, Conceive!

A 3-month guide to preparing yourself for pregnancy.


If you're reading this, chances are good that you're thinking about having a baby soon. But before the serious baby-making begins, check out this get-ready-to-get-pregnant guide. Already started trying? No problem. It's never too late to make lifestyle changes that will improve your health ... and your child's.

Three Months Before

Check yourselves out: Since it takes two to do the reproductive tango, you should schedule a pre-conception checkup for yourself and your partner. During this exam, your health care provider will go over issues such as your and your families' health histories. "Understanding patients' gynecological history and past pregnancy experiences can be very important in helping them plan healthy pregnancies," says John R. Sussman, M.D., associate professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

At this exam, your caregiver also should check that your immunizations are up-to-date. Chickenpox and rubella are the two main ones to concern yourself with now. If you're not immune to both diseases, you should ideally be vaccinated three months before trying to conceive. Both are "live" vaccines, so they're not recommended during pregnancy.

Special cases, special advice: Women with chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, thyroid disease, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease or lupus will need to have them carefully managed. For women with diabetes, the odds of having a healthy pregnancy and baby increase if they are able to get their blood sugar under control before they become pregnant. A pre-conception checkup should include a test for diabetes if a physician suspects you may be at risk. Women who are being treated for depression or anxiety, or who've struggled with mood disorders in the past, also should get special care.

Clean out your cabinets: Your medicine chest is probably filled with over-the-counter medications you take for headaches, allergies or constipation, and perhaps a variety of herbal products, too. Now is the time to start thinking about what's in there. Some of these products contain ingredients that could affect fertility or harm your baby-to-be. Ask your doctor about what's safe once you start trying to conceive.

Pick a date: If you're using a barrier birth control method, such as condoms or a diaphragm, you can continue to use it until the day you start "trying." But if you're on the birth control pill, you might want to switch to another method of contraception now. Even though some women begin ovulating almost immediately after stopping oral contraceptives, for others it may take several months.

Put your money where your mouth is: Gum disease is associated with preterm delivery, so see a dentist to make sure you're in good dental health before getting pregnant. If you need dental treatments, X-rays or medications, take care of that before you start trying to conceive.

On-the-job safety: If you're concerned about anything you're exposed to at work--such as harmful chemicals, prolonged standing or even intense stress--talk to your employer, and do some research. Your partner also should do some digging, even though it can be difficult to get some employers to acknowledge that reproductive health issues are important for men, too.

Two Months Before

Vitamins and veggies: Start eating a variety of whole grains, fruits and vegetables every day, and reduce your unhealthy-fat intake. Boost your consumption of foods that are rich in iron and calcium, and consider taking a multivitamin supplement, too. Just make sure you don't overdo it with vitamins A or D. (Recommended: vitamin A, 770 micrograms, up to 3,000 mcg; vitamin D, 5 mcg, up to 50 mcg.)

One of the most important ingredients in your multivitamin supplement is folic acid. A minimum of 400 mcg daily is recommended to reduce the risk of neural-tube defects such as spina bifida in babies. (Note: If you are at increased risk, you may need approximately 10 times that amount, or 4 milligrams.)

Would-be dads also should get plenty of folic acid, zinc and vitamin C, nutrients that are vital for optimal sperm production and quality.

Weight matters: If you're heavier than you should be, try to get to within 15 pounds of your goal weight before becoming pregnant, then switch to a maintenance diet of 1,800 calories per day while trying to conceive. Obese mothers face an increased risk of high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, oversize babies and Cesarean section.

Of course, it's not healthy to be seriously underweight either. Women who are too thin are at risk of experiencing fertility problems, going into preterm labor, having a low-birth-weight baby or becoming anemic.

Get with the (fitness) program: If you already have a regular fitness routine, by all means continue it (unless you are into marathons or extreme sports, in which case you should consult a physician to make sure your activities don't affect your fertility). And if you've been more into the couch than cardio, consider starting a program now--one you can continue throughout your pregnancy. Being physically active when you're pregnant can help relieve pregnancy aches and pains. It also boosts your energy, helps you sleep, improves your mood and helps you cope with stress.

One Month Before

Kick some butts: "There are so many things you don't have the ability to change to maximize your chances of having a healthy baby. Smoking is one thing you can change," says Arlene Cullum, M.P.H., of the Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif.

A woman who smokes is less fertile and faces an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm delivery and having a low-birth-weight baby. Children of mothers who smoke are at higher risk for many health problems, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

If you're a nonsmoker but your partner isn't, tell him it's time he quit. Recent studies conclude that for a fetus, there's no big difference between having a mother who smokes or having one who's exposed to secondhand smoke.

Don't party hearty: No one has ever been able to determine a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, so the March of Dimes and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you stop drinking entirely once you start trying to conceive. Moms who drink during pregnancy face an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and having a low-birth-weight baby or one with potentially severe birth defects. Alcohol also can bring down sperm counts, and marijuana use decreases sperm density and motility and increases the number of abnormal sperm.

Go slow with the joe: You don't have to cut out caffeine entirely, but because excessive intake (more than 300 mg daily) has been linked to fertility problems as well as to an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery and a low-birth-weight baby, moderation is key.

Start Your Engines!

Once you're actively trying to conceive, take a few more steps to stack the odds of a healthy pregnancy in your favor.

Find out which foods are safe: Experts recommend that pregnant women--and women who are trying to get pregnant--steer clear of raw fish and fish that are high in mercury; undercooked meat or seafood; deli meats; all foods made with raw or lightly cooked eggs; unpasteurized soft cheeses, milk and juices; raw vegetable sprouts; and herbal teas.

Delegate the dirty work: Let others handle unsafe chores (e.g., using paints, solvents or pesticides; cleaning the cat box or rodent cage).

Help him keep his cool: Men who wear boxers have a lower scrotal temperature (and hence a more sperm-friendly environment) than those who wear briefs. Your guy also should keep the laptop off his lap and avoid cycling more than two hours a day, six days a week.