Promises Promises

Right now, you're super-motivated to make positive, lasting changes in your life. Meeting those goals (and sticking with them) is the tricky part. Here's how to keep your vows—for your whole family's sake.

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When you find out you’re pregnant, “New Year’s” resolutions become the order of the day, whether it’s March, August or December. Maybe you’ve vowed to start exercising. Or eating something resembling a vegetable now and then. Or to stop fretting about your financial situation and actually take action about it—this time. After all, what better reason do you have to finally get your act together than that new life growing inside you?

“Pregnancy is an ideal time to set goals for self-improvement,” says Mike Dow, Psy.D., a Los Angeles-based adolescent, family and parenting expert. “First, you must take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of your baby. And second, you’re preparing to become a mother, and being able to achieve your goals is going to help you be a better parent.” Sounds good, you say, but what about all those other times you’ve set goals and failed to achieve them—or to make them last long term? The problem, experts say, isn’t your misguidedintentions or your lack of willpower; it’s your approach.

Just think about the old joke that says insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. To actually help make this time different, here are seven important goals for your pregnancy, delivery and transition to parenthood, along with expert advice on how to achieve them and stick with them after your baby is born. If you need a little extra motivation, remember this: Hard-earned goals are a lot like babies—once you meet them, you’ll really want to keep them.

Goal #1 Strengthen Your Relationship

Why it’s important:

Because the things that attracted you to your mate can actually work against you when the baby arrives. “People marry each other because they’re complementary,” says psychiatrist Foster Cline, M.D., co-founder of the Love and Logic Institute in Colorado. “But when the baby is crying, the wife’s sweet, understanding nature—which the husband loves—means she’s going to be constantly popping up and attending to the baby. The more practical husband might think that attention could just lead to more crying, and the next thing you know, there’s conflict.”

Make it happen:

It sounds clichéd, but you need to discuss your concerns with your partner before the baby is born, Cline recommends. Be specific: When it comes to crying, how are each of you going to handle it? What about middle- of-the-night feedings? The time to negotiate parenting roles and practices is not during a meltdown (yours or your baby’s). Keep it going Look for opportunities for closeness. “One really nice thing is for the husband to sit with the wife when she’s breastfeeding,” Cline says. “It can be a wonderful bonding time.”

Goal #2 Start Eating Better

Why it’s important:

“If you don’t eat well, and eat enough, during pregnancy, the fetus is undernourished and your baby could be born with low birth weight,” says Eileen Behan, R.D., author of 2008’s The Baby Food Bible and 2007’s Eat Well, Lose Weight While Breastfeeding. This can cause health problems at birth and later in life. “If you’re already overweight, gaining too much can be dangerous, too, because it can increase your child’s future risk of being overweight or having diabetes,” Behan says. It can also lead to pregnancy

complications, a too-large baby and the need for a Cesarean section.

Make it happen:

The key is to establish an eating schedule, Behan says. “If you don’t have a plan and you’re stressed, tired or hungry, you’ll make bad decisions,” she explains. Schedule three healthy meals and two snacks a day, and include a fruit or vegetable every time you eat.

Keep it going:

Make sure there’s plenty of “easy stuff ” in your eating plan, suggests Behan. For example, “It’s really nice to look back and say, ‘Hey, I always took my prenatals.’ ” Keep making small changes—phasing out empty calories and replacing them with healthy choices—and soon you won’t even be tempted by the vending machine (unless it sells carrot sticks).

Goal #3 Exercise Regularly

Why it’s important:

The reasons it’s essential for pregnant women to exercise could fill a book—one like 2005’s Fit to Deliver, written by University of British Columbia clinical associate instructor Karen Nordahl, M.D. “Exercising reduces some common pregnancy complaints, including nausea, constipation and back pain, and it can help with some postpartum issues, such as incontinence,” Nordahl says. “It can even help reduce the chance of certain pregnancy complications, including hypertension and gestational diabetes.” Regular exercise can also help you avoid excess weight gain and build strength for labor and your life with a new baby.

Make it happen:

For many women, no matter how motivated, the hardest part of exercising is often simply getting started. The secret is not to go it alone. “Join a pre-natal exercise class or make exercise dates with a friend,” says Nordahl. Spending money or making a commitment to others makes you more likely to take the first step.

Keep it going:

Join an exercise group that lets you work out with your baby, whether it’s mom-and-baby yoga or a stroller exercise program. “You’ll get your exercise in and also create a social network of people you can get advice from,” Nordahl says.

Goal #4 Have a Great Delivery

Why it’s important:

Your attitude is everything, says Sharon Harkey, a certified nurse-midwife in San Diego. “Women lack confidence and tend to focus on the horror stories they’ve heard,” she says. “But you have to look at giving birth as a test, and you have eight months to study.”

Make it happen:

Take a childbirth class or educate yourself otherwise on the labor and delivery process so you know what to expect. And write a brief birth plan outlining your preferences on issues like pain relief and moving around during labor so you’re clear about your ideal experience.

Keep it going:

“Seek the advice of women who had a five-hour labor and everything went perfectly,” Harkey says. “During labor, if you don’t agree with your doctor or a nurse—say, if they’re pushing for a C-section you don’t want—ask, ‘Is my baby OK? Am I OK? Can we try giving it a little more time?’ But be flexible—the goal is definitely to have a healthy mom and a healthy baby.”

Goal #5 Quell Financial Worry

Why it’s important:

“Right now there’s such a culture of financial unpredictability, and when you commit to having a baby, you want to be able to predict security,” says Amanda Clayman, LMSW, a New York-based mother of one and a therapist specializing in financial wellness. “But financial fears tend to feed themselves if you’re avoiding them.”

Make it happen:

Start by getting on the same financial page as your partner, Clayman suggests. “For each of you, what was your first memory of money? It will be something that was important enough to have it imprinted on you. Talk about that and how money was treated in your family and how it shaped you.” Clayman also recommends discussing financial priorities and figuring out ways to save what you can.

Keep it going:

Keep fear at bay by having a frank discussion about your budget and what would happen if one (or even both) of you lost your job. “Not knowing how much you’re spending or not having a fallback plan will make any fear seem bigger than it is,” Clayman says. Your fallback plan may require you to face some uncomfortable realities, such as temporarily moving in with relatives or relocating. But remember, what your baby really needs is love and security, not a big house or fancy school district.

Goal #6 Create a Calm & Happy Home

Why it’s important:

“Once you become a mother, you’re overwhelmed in many ways, and having serene and cheerful surroundings can help you feel more peaceful and reflect that back to your baby,” says Gia Russo, co-founder of the design brand MiGi.

Make it happen:

In month six or so of your pregnancy, get rid of clutter by having a garage sale or donating unused items. When redecorating, Russo recommends using the most effective (and least expensive) way to create emotion: color. “We tend to use spring greens, yellows, pinks and shades of blues, even orange—it’s a very happy and cheerful color that’s trendy for nurseries,” says Russo. Bright lighting and plenty of fresh air also work wonders, she adds.

Keep it going:

Think long term when buying furniture, Russo suggests. “Instead of a changing table, consider a dresser with a changing-table top that you can remove later,” she says. And make your own bedroom into a place of refuge: “Try to fit in a small upholstered chair where you can put your feet up and read.”

As your baby grows, don’t let toys or other clutter take over your home. “Baskets are great for staying organized,” Russo says. Use plastic or canvas bins that stack or sit in closets or on bookshelves.

Goal #7 Minimize Worry & Anxiety

Why it’s important:

“Studies show that the mind really does create our reality,” says psychotherapist Mike Dow. That’s the reason for the “placebo effect.”

Make it happen:

“Remind yourself that by believing in your health and the health of your baby, you are [helping yourself ] have the best pregnancy and delivery possible,” Dow says. Feeling that you’re OK also decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is cardiotoxic and wreaks havoc on mother and fetus alike, Dow adds. If you’re a worrier by nature, focus on the statistics: The great majority of babies are born healthy.

Keep it going:

Remember to make your own wellbeing a priority. “You can’t take care of another human being without taking care of yourself,” says Dow. “So give yourself the freedom to believe that by doing something ‘selfish’—a walk, a massage, a dinner with friends—you are actually being selfless.”

Dow also recommends making a concerted effort to “turn down” worry, especially the what-if-somethingbad- happens variety. And instead of succumbing to anxiety during stressful times with your baby, remind yourself of similar situations you’ve survived (labor, anyone?) and remember that this, too, shall pass.

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