A guide for preparing to conceive

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Sara C

NFP-non-Catholic

People thought my partner Matt and I were crazy for planning our wedding in "only" seven months. We dodged a fusillade of comments like, "But that won't be enough time to book a good reception venue!" and "It can take longer than that for the dress to be delivered. And don't forget about the alterations!"

We tried not to stress about it too much. Seven months was, after all, enough time to plan a mega party and a friends/family reunion. In the final months, when I started adding completely unnecessary projects to my to-do list (hello, fabric pins and a dog bandanna), I occasionally wished we had opted for an even shorter engagement.

That's why I found it ironic when I also faced criticism–two years later–for spending too much time planning for conception: "Be more spontaneous. Just start trying already!" and "You'll never feel ready, so stop worrying about it."

In all honesty, I'm so thankful that I spent eight months preparing my mind, body, and life for pregnancy before we even started trying to conceive. Unlike my mother who accidentally got pregnant when she was 22 and then raised me as a single-parent, I wanted to create a prepared and intentional environment (although I think my mom managed to do a heck of a good job!). I read countless books, talked with a midwife, watched documentaries, attended a birth fair, and started stalking pregnancy and birthing websites.

Of course all families need to figure out for themselves what kind of preparation (if any) works for them. It's a very personal decision, and we need to honor each other for forging our own paths (duh!).

As for my personal path, here are some of the things we did to start preparing our life for conception:

  • Destressing and Making Space for Pregnancy: When I started tracking my cycle, I realized that stress was seriously impacting my physical and emotional well-being. Eight months before trying to conceive, I started eliminating unnecessary commitments from my life (and saying no to new ones), practicing deep-breathing techniques, implementing a daily relaxation ritual, and getting to the psychological roots of why I invite stress into my life. I realized that once I got pregnant, I would need time for frequent naps, and I was preparing myself for a potential decrease in my productivity.
  • Getting More Healthy: I analyzed my nutritional intake, my hydration, and my exercise (or lack thereof) and started implementing changes that would better prepare my body for a healthy conception.
  • Eliminating Toxins from Our Life: We sorted through all our cleaning products, bathroom stuff, etc., and made our environment less toxic.
  • Building the Bank: We started thinking through the costs associated with birth and infancy and came up with a plan for saving enough money (without buying into the hype put out there by the Baby Industrial Complex).
  • Figuring Out Insurance and Maternity Leave: Matt and I actually didn't do this as part of our preconception preparation, but I wish we had! I would have been able to sign up for short-term disability insurance, which would have helped to cover part of my unpaid maternity leave. Now that I'm pregnant, I have a "pre-existing condition," and it's too late for me. Argh!
  • Deciding on a Care Provider: There are so many options out there (depending on the community you live in) for prenatal care and birthing. Regardless of whether you want to go the hospital, birthing center, or homebirth route, there are tons of questions to ask and information to take in. Once you're pregnant, your prenatal care starts, and at that point, it can be stressful to sort through all the information and ask all the questions. Matt and I decided to do all of our research before trying to conceive. We even did interviews and settled on our care provider in advance. When we conceived, we simply had to call her to schedule our first appointment.
  • Strengthening Our Relationship: We took a hard look at how we distribute responsibilities in our household, how we support each other, what problems we're having, whether we fight constructively or destructively, etc. We started to think about really concrete ways to strengthen our relationship in preparation for the extreme stress that can come from welcoming a new baby into a family.
  • Preparing for the Change: We thought long and hard about the ways in which our lives would change forever, once we added on to our family.

Resources

I recommend the following books and movies to support a more independent conception planning process:

  • Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility: This book lays everything out there for you in such a clear, concise way. It addresses how to get pregnant (through tracking your cycle) and also focuses on ways to prepare your life for conception (through nutrition, exercise, and stress reduction).
  • What to Expect Before You're Expecting: I know there's a lot of criticism of the What to Expect series, but I was thankful for this book because there are so few out there that focus exclusively on preconception as its own stage. I found this book to be chock full of interesting recommendations.
  • The Complete Organic Pregnancy: Although this book focuses solely on eliminating toxins from our lives, I loved reading it! It's a bit overwhelming, but the information is super-interesting and applicable to all stages of our lives, not just pregnancy.
  • Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood: This book has little to do with preconception, but I am so glad I read it before I got pregnant. It's just too depressing and stressful to read when you're carrying another life around (in my opinion!). Seriously. It was a bit biased and felt like propaganda at times, but I'm so glad I read this indictment of the "hidden costs and vested interests surrounding pregnancy and birth in America."

As far as movies go, I haven't been able to find too much. But here are my recommendations:

  • The Business of Being Born: This movie opened my eyes to a whole new world. Even though it feels biased toward a certain perspective, it helped me realize that there's so much I don't know about when it comes to giving birth in America. I highly recommend this film.
  • Pregnant in America: I didn't like this movie nearly as much as I liked The Business of Being Born (not even close), but it's still worth watching, since there's simply not that much out there on these topics.

Definitely find the amount and type of preparation that makes sense for you and your family, and then go for it!

  1. That's really interesting. I like the line about the "prepared an intentional environment." More parents-to-be should think that way!!
    Thanks for writing that ๐Ÿ™‚ .

  2. Thank you Thank you! I am in the beginning stages of getting ready for baby. I want to give myself about 6-8 months and this is SO helpful!!!! ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. You. Are. My. Hero! As a nearlywed lurker who is preparing to conceive no less than a year from now, I profess my undying devotion. Our closest friends just had their first baby a few days ago and the "You're next!" and "What are you waiting for?!" comments toward us are quite overwhelming. Most of the time when you tell people, "We're taking some time to prepare ourselves mentally, emotionally and financially before making that next great committment" they look at you like you're selfish/crazy/annoying and then try to persuade you to have a baby, like "Aw, but don't you want one now? They're so cute!" Um… when we're ready, thanks.

    As soon as the wedding is over, I'm going to dive head-first into your recommendations so that, when October 2011 rolls around and we're ready to start trying I'll be as prepared as possible.

  4. Thanks for highlighting Taking Charge of Your Fertility, I agree it's a great read for a woman, whether trying to conceive or not, very empowering. I was hoping I'd see it featured on this blog at some point ; )

  5. I totally agree with all of this! I started pre-planning to conceive a year ago and often felt like I was totally weird for doing so. I also did the eliminating toxins thing, researched maternity care/leave, started seeing a midwife for my regular GYN care, and stopped taking hormonal birth control. Several friends I told about this just did NOT get why I was doing Fertility Awareness when I wasn't trying to get pregnant. Anyway, I don't know if it was a coincidence, but when I was finally ready to conceive this summer, we got lucky on the first try! I definitely feel like preparing my mind and body beforehand, and taking the time to truly understand the mechanics of the process, really did help to create both physical and mental space for this baby.

    Also, one other book I would add to your recommendations is Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth. Even though it focuses on the actual birthing process, I just thought it was such a positive and empowering resource. I've known a lot of people who breeze through pregnancy, then freak out about a month before they actually have to give birth. Reading this book really helped me to let go of my culturally-imprinted fears about giving birth and embrace the whole experience from the get-go.

  6. I am a huge fan of Taking Charge of Your Fertility and recommend it to everyone I know. I feel like it should have been required reading back in high school (though I understand that now there is a teenage version, which is fantastic). There is so much that I wished they had been more straightforward with us about in sex ed, but better to learn it now than never. I found it very empowering! Thank you for sharing. The more informed we are, the better.

  7. Thanks for this! I'm in the planning stage myself and I actually had a friend (childless) tell me that I am "probably overthinking things." But I know that my husband and I are not quite ready and so why not research and learn as much now, so I am all the better prepared for when we are ready to begin trying (soon, hopefully!).

    Thanks again for this great resource!

  8. Love this post.

    My fiance and I aren't planning on trying for at least another year after our wedding next summer, but I've been researching and starting to prepare my body and our relationship.

    We are excited to do this intentional, instead of accidentally. I know quite a few women who had unplanned pregnancies, and while their children are joys, they do have some lingering resentment, cause they weren't ready.

    Thanks for the great links!

  9. Although we did plan to conceive, I wish I'd done a little more preparation. I didn't expect to be violently ill my first three months and unable to work, and I wish I'd had a plan, both financially and for some kind of emotional support, as it's been really hard on me in ways that I never expected. Great post!

  10. Thank you so much for posting this! My husband and I are hoping to start trying to conceive next summer, and I too have been stalking pregnancy websites and reading everything I can get my hands on about how to prepare. It feels really lonely though sometimes being in that preconception phase because I don't know many people who did/are planning ahead like we are. I want so bad to talk to people about it, but I'm afraid they're going to look at me and go "Silly girl, you're not even pregnant yet!" And I'm totally with you on creating a "prepared and intentional environment." You named some excellent resourses, but the book that I think I've gotten the most out of so far is "Birthing from Within". It really addresses the emotional and spiritual sides of pregancy and birth, and has a lot of great excercises that I can do even now before conception. Highly recommend it!

  11. Thank-you! I have just placed an Amazon order for some books, and I no longer feel like a freak for wanting to plan! Plus I made a doctor's appointment for Friday to talk it through – It's time to get organized! xx

  12. love the post! I am such a planner and its great to see a post about this- I have been off birth control for 6 months now so I can learn my cycle again and have been taking pre-natal vitamins for 6 months as well- one thing it doesn't seem many talk about is taking the prenatal viatmins well BEFORE you are pregnant. The Mayo Clinic website (and probably others) recommend women to be taking prenatal vitamins 3 months before you conceive.

    It's comforting to know that there are other women out there who are planning this stuff as much as I am who aren't pregnant yet! I love reading the posts on this site to learn as much as I can about different parenting experiences and ideas especially when everyone is so open and not "you'll see . . ." I am trying to mentally prepare myself for when I am pregnant and all of the unasked for advice!

  13. I just have to let y'all know that I *highly* recommend Sara's Purposeful Conception course! It is chock-full of resources, self-reflection exercises, and pretty much everything you need in order to prepare for getting knocked up. Except, y'know, the eggs and spermies. =)

    Sara's course is more than just info, though – it's a great way to exchange ideas with others going through the same planning/prep process – to feel supported, to work through any anxiety, and to explore what it means to become a parent.

    And no, Sara didn't ask me to write this. I just can't help but gush about the course. It was fantastic.

  14. I thought this post was awesome! Thanks so much!

    I do have to say though that there were things that I hadn't planned for even though we too had a "plan" from the get go. Most importantly, how sick I would get and what we would do (medicine-wise, time off for the husband, etc). We almost moved to a state where we knew NO ONE right before we got pregnant and though I know I would have gotten through it somehow, I was so sick since week 5 that it was the biggest blessing to be near family who could help us out. Some things about pregnancy are just….unable to plan for. And maybe that's the idea, realizing beforehand that sometimes complications occur that you can not predict!

  15. One tiny word of caution to the planners in the house — remember that no matter how well you try to plan and prepare for conception, ultimately it's kind of a mystery that's a little out of your hands.

    I say this as a consummate planner who got kicked in the emotional teeth when all my planning and preparing and careful charting didn't work out the way I'd anticipated. For Type As, trying to conceive can be a HUGE lesson in walking the balance between trying and releasing control.

    • This is the comment I wanted to post. Not to discredit all of you who appreciate this, but I am a Type A planner. We planned and planned and planned. And then when it took us a really long time to get pregnant. And then we were thrilled when we were pregnant, and then at the end of the first trimester they diagnosed a missed miscarriage. We waited the requisite recommended three months, and, during that time, we planned even more and tried even harder. We went to every conceivable (no pun intended) holistic preparation, we followed every recommendation. And the second time around we actually got pregnant the first month we tried. However, during the first trimester I tried to release my need to control *everything*. I actually ate smoked salmon and had sips of wine now and then. Not because I wanted to flirt with fate, but because I knew that if I was perfect, and we lost the baby again, it would feel just as devastating. We just passed 14 weeks so it looks like, so far so good.

      There is an illusion in the desire to plan and control. We can only control so much of this process. I think a lot of my journey has actually been about realizing how much of this process we CAN'T control. It seems like a very important lesson for parenting in general. Somehow we need to find a way to balance those things as we prepare to be not just bodily hosts for a fetus for 9 months, but parents for the rest of our lives.

    • You could really see this in the comments under "When is the right time to have a baby" blog post awhile back. Many people said, "I thought I would have a baby by now" or "I got pregnant during college which was so not part of the plan" but usually there were positive outcomes to all of these stories too!
      I am trying to plan conception in terms of trying to keep my body very healthy and my life as stress free and stable as possible. The actual "conceiving" part I am just leaving up to chance.

      • I am trying to plan conception in terms of trying to keep my body very healthy and my life as stress free and stable as possible. The actual "conceiving" part I am just leaving up to chance.

        I think that's a great goal. Just go easy on yourself and remember that you can be perfectly healthy, stress-free, and stable and STILL have challenges getting pregnant. I think that's where I ran into trouble … I'd prepared in all the ways you were supposed to, and when I didn't get pregnant I just couldn't shake the feeling that I'd done something wrong.

        (Side note: I'm not meaning to be all scary infertility boogie man here — I just want to encourage the planners to be gentle with themselves, and recognize that releasing control is part of the process of trying to conceive AND parenthood.)

    • Thanks Ariel. I get worried when the line of thought turns to, "Wow, I did all this planning and I got pregnant right away! I think preparing emotionally really helped me." Because maybe it did help you get pregnant, or maybe your just crazy fertile, who knows. It's rad that it worked for you, but we can't draw big picture conclusions.

      My worry is that when people who are NOT getting pregnant right away hear that, they think, "Sh*t. This is my fault on some level. If I'd planned more, I wouldn't be in this mess. If I was more emotionally prepaired, I'd be knocked up by now."

      Preparation is great if it puts you in a good headspace to welcome a baby into the world. But we need to not conflate prepartation and virtue and fertility. Plenty of awesome kids get made in the back seats of cars (oops!) and plenty of amazing parents can't get pregnant no matter what they do. I think part of getting in the right headspace is realizing how little control we really have, and trying to get comfortable with that.

    • Thank you Ariel. I am very much a planner and took Sara's first Purposeful Conception course. I was very disappointed in the lack of attention to infertility, which can happen despite the best of plans and lifestyle choices. A lot of the discussion didn't present the reality of fertility complications.

  16. I have been waiting for a post like this on Offbeat Mama! While my husband and I will (ideally) not have children until he is done with college (5 or so years), I still like to be prepared for things. Or maybe being able to look up all these things helps control the growing want of a kid right now. ๐Ÿ˜›
    Great info, I can't wait to be able to look some of them up. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Thank you for this post! I have been feeling baby-crazy for almost 2 years now, and while it has let up over the past few months, I still feel committed to preparing myself for my eventual pregnancy and birth. My friends laugh and ridicule me for already having very determined opinions on what ways I want to raise my child and how I want my birth to be in an ideal world. They tell me that "I have no idea what it is going to be like" and while I don't know exactly what birth and childraising is going to be like for my partner and I, I feel that by knowing what other people have experience I am preparing myself for the many different variable situations that could occur for my family.

    I am definitely going to be reading those books over the next year – we are still at least 1-2 years out from TTC, but I am anxious to educate myself further!

  18. Thank you Carrie and Ariel for your input on this article. I'm rounding out my first trimester, but it took us awhile to get this far. I think preparing your mind, body, and relationship for a child is a wonderful thing, and statistically most readers are likely to succeed within a year of trying, often less. For those who struggle, though, it is indeed a harsh lesson in what you can and cannot control.

    For those who are struggling, I'd like to suggest another book – The Conception Chronicles by Patty Doyle Debano, Courtney Edgerton Menzel, and Shelly Dicken Sutphen. They use humor and plain talk to address the less often talked-about truths about trying to get pregnant.

  19. Awesome post! It boggles my mind that we spend so much time preparing for weddings, for trips, for educational pursuits, for moves, and so little time preparing for pregnancy and childbirth. I am constantly amazed by the number of people who deliberately get pregnant and have no idea what the physical changes of pregnancy are, how insurance/maternity leave works, what's behind the physiology of labor. Not to mention people who deliberately get pregnant and have never spent time around children! I think it makes more sense to be prepared–obviously, you can't plan for everything and you can't know what will happen ahead of time, but you can build a knowledge base that will help you out, even during the unexpected.

  20. I am also a big planner and spent the 6 months after our wedding researching and planning and trying to learn about babies, conception etc.
    We were keeping our plans to procreate soon a secret so didnt get any comments about overthinking it or anything like that, but I know that most people around me didnt do any planning or researching for their kids. Good to know I'm not the only one out there!

  21. This makes me feel so much better about my secret stash of pregnancy magazines and books! I'e always been fascinated with pregnancy and birth from a really young age and now at 29 i'm finally 6-12 months from trying to concieve and i've started eating better, exercising and generally preparing my body for pregnancy. I think preparing yourself in every way is the least you can do to give your baby the best start in life. I can't wait to start this incredible journey!

  22. I recommend "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" to everyone with a uterus, whether they are trying to get pregnant, trying not to get pregnant, or not even thinking about either one. I wish I would've read it YEARS ago. Then I could've spent all those years fully understanding my body rather than making some pretty good guesses. It is an amazing resource for anyone with a uterus.

    • I got my copy of the book about a week ago and I went into complete book worm mode. It was fascinating! I didn't know my body was that cool! I wish someone had told me all this stuff when I was much younger. Sex Ed was so focused on how not to get pregnant (which it turns out I'm good at!) that I had no idea how my body actually works to get pregnant. It is a complete revelation! Thanks for the recommendation.

  23. Great post! There's one book I'd like to add to the list though, and it's for anyone trying to get pregnant using non-heterosexual intercourse methods: "The New Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy and Birth" by Stephanie Brill. It discusses many of the topics listed in the above article. It's main strength though is discussing sperm options and timing of insemination with both fresh and frozen sperm. I highly recommend it for all the lesbians, single moms by choice and hetero couples needing to use alternative methods of introducing sperm (like intrauterine insemination, etc).

  24. Giggles and Ariel,
    I totally agree about TCOYF (Taking Charge of Your Fertility). I started reading it when we were in the beginning stages of trying to conceive.

    I couldn't believe (and still can't!) how much information was left out from health class in high school. I never knew about temperature rises, cervical changes, and the change in cervical fluid every month. If I had known earlier about all these changes I would have been so much more aware of my body.

    I also highly recommend the TCOYF website and forums: http://www.tcoyf.com/

  25. I definitely agree with everyone who cautioned about going into the fertility process with a "plan" or expectations about how it's going to go. If Ariel invites me to write another post, I want it to be about how we can control many of the inputs, but not the outputs, of conception, pregnancy, and parenthood. Ironically, part of my planning process included reflecting on my planner nature (which is a euphemistic way to say that I'm controlling!), to admit the limitations of my plans, and to really let go. I actually went into the process expecting to have difficulty conceiving because of what one of my doctors had told me about my body years before. However, I still think it's very valuable to be intentional with the things we can control because there's definitely a relationship between the inputs and the outputs.

  26. This is so encouraging. I feel that I am in the same boat of pre-conception and it is amazing how easy it is to feel like you are the only one and everyone is going to think that you are crazy.

    I have been following Offbeat Mama for several months now and I love the variety of articles/pictures/ideas. This one really spoke to me though and it is great to see all the comments too.
    Thanks!

  27. This is so great. I was just thinking, "I wonder if OBM has anything about pre-conception?" and here is this post!

    My fiance and I are planning on getting pregnant in about a year. I wish we could sooner, so I'm always thinking about it! I didn't even think about the importance of eliminating toxic products. That is something I have wanted to do, so now I am even more motivated to do so.

  28. This makes me feel so happy I am not alone! My fiance and I start trying this March and we have been planning for almost a year now! We've both been on pre-natal vitamins, organic diet, exercising, saving etc and everyone thinks we are totally mad! I am glad we are planning rather than just winging it!

  29. This has been helpful! It's not often that, as a doula, I am recommended books that I have not already read, but a few of them on here are new for me. I am not trying to conceive right now, but I probably will be within six months to a year. I already have one son, and we're thinking about another baby soon.

  30. I am giving my husband a year of wedded bliss (we just married last month) and then I'm going to stop trying to stifle that biological clock and just let it ring! I was on this site because of Offbeat Bride (which I LOVE) and now that I'm reading about actually planning for the baby it makes so much sense I feel dumb for not really thinking about it that way! I mean, I have been thinking that I would spend this year getting into a routine of eating healthy, exercising regularly, etc, but didn't really put it all together like you have. Sooo glad I'm reading this now! I mean, I spend a year planning my wedding and then I'm just going to snooze for another year when I'm thinking about bringing a whole new life into the world?! People are crazy. If you have the luxury of not having an "oops!" pregnancy, why not make the best of it? Yay!

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