Can you get ready for pregnancy YEARS before you plan on having a baby? #I've got a parenting question!#pregnancy March 2 2011 | Offbeat Editors offbeatbride Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter. Sarah sent us a question about how she can get her body ready for pregnancy even if she's not planning on having a child for a few years. Photo by Flickr user Star5112. Sometimes I wonder if there are things that would really help if I did them early, very early — even several years before I intend to think about getting pregnant. If I started doing kegels now, would it help during pregnancy? If I faithfully massaged my perineum for years before pregnancy, would I have an even lower chance of needing an episiotomy? If I started using cocoa butter on my tummy now, would it make my skin less likely to develop stretch marks? I know one needs to take folic acid before and during pregnancy, but is it more helpful if I start taking it WAY before pregnancy? I know that it's probably not necessary to do any of these things, but I think there are probably a number of women out there who aren't at all ready enough to get pregnant who have just enough babycrack in their systems that feeling like they are doing something to physically prepare for a distant pregnancy would just be really happy-making. It would also be nice to feel like these things would actually be beneficial, that we aren't crazy ladies who are just pretending or role-playing. Do you have any insight as to things to do super early to prepare for pregnancy? Reporter Name * Reporter Email * Original text Enter the original text here. Edited text* Enter your suggested copyedit here. Notes You can add a note for the editor here. * Required information. Fix Typo PREVIOUS How can I make my weird scene shit fit into my sophisticated adult home? NEXT Stephanie and Sean's recycled, reused, refurbished apartment in the deep south Show/Hide comments [ 89 ] I don't think any of the things listed in the article are necessary or helpful at this early stage (or possibly ever in the case of perineal massage – evidence doesn't support it), but if I had one piece of advice for pre-pregnancy women, it would be to really embrace and live a healthy lifestyle with a nutritious diet and regular exercise. It is MUCH, MUCH harder to get into good habits once you're pregnant and craving or have sore joints, or once you have a child and you're crazy busy. When exercising and eating healthfully are part of your life and come naturally to you, you are much more likely to be able to integrate them into your post-kid life. Other than that, enjoy yourself! Watch lots of movies at the theatre, go out for drinks, have tons of sex, sleep in late on weekends, go on spur-of-the-moment getaways, and generally embrace your pre-kid life. I'm not one of those who will say your life is ruined once kids come along; it's certainly not, but it is completely different. You will lose a lot of spontaneity and have more restrictions. Reply And if you intend to quit caffeine or smoking, NOW IS THE TIME. Don't try to do it when you're emotionally and physically dealing with a pregnancy. Reply I'd recommend lots of yoga to strengthen your hips and abdomen (and also to get centered which is important when trying to conceive – a process that can also be trying on your patience). That and take a complete multivitamin that contains folic acid. No need for a whole prenatal yet and most vitamins on the market have folic acid in them these days. Reply From the prenatals that I've looked at… nearly the only difference from a Women's One a Day multivitamin is the source of vitamin A. Being a vegetarian, I don't want to take a vitamin that is packed with animal derived vitamin A anyway. Reply i know i am not ready. just thinking about giving birth makes me cringe. and i don't think i will ever be ready for episiotomy. and thinking about how my sex life would be badly affected makes me want to not have kids. of just get a c-section (and i am pro-natural birth). Reply Epistiotomies are nearly never done. Most OB and midwife practices don't even offer them. Don't expect them as a standard part of birth. Reply Unfortunately, this varies greatly across the country. Some places still do them often. Reply Yup, this very much varies. I know tons of people who had them, and a friend who had an extremely bad experience with one. I think lots of docs prefer them because they can be easier to stitch up. I share your horror! Reply This is somethin I fear for real, out of the 5 people I know that have given birth in the past year only one wasn't given an epistomy one was so bad a year later she still has trouble not wetting herself. We are going to start trying to make a baby next month and I know I'm prepping right now, there isn't any reason not too you also get the added bonus of helping you comprehend the majorness of what your planning on doing so you are (hopefully) less freaked out. Reply I think it must vary, because the OBs in the middle America practice that delivered my baby will not cut unless you are really going to tear badly – like fourth degree tearing. They let me tear naturally and stitched the second degree tear back up. As much as I was terrified as the childbirth process, the pain and exhaustion (three hours of pushing) was nothing compared to the overwhelming emotion of having my brand new baby. They kept offering me better drugs than the Motrin they started with and I never had need of anything more than that. Reply I know 5 women who recently had children and 4 of them had episiotomies. One of them was my mother and I don't believe it was necessary but rather something they do out of habit. I was in the room during the birth and the episiotomy looked very "routine" to me. Reply The thought of having to go through the emotional and physical trauma and recovery from a repeat c-section makes ME want to cringe. I'm sure as heck going to do everything I can to try to have a natural birth next time! C-sections are for the birds! 🙂 But, to each their own! Reply Oh Unready One, you might want to read my post on sex after baby: http://offbeatmama.com/2010/04/my-dirty-little-secret It changes things, but it's not always for the worst. In my case, it was for the better! Reply Hmmm, I'd rather have an episiotomy than a c-section. A c-section is major surgery that cuts through layers of muscle and into an internal organ. In comparison, an episiotomy is superficial. I realize I'm an unusual case in that a prior back surgery meant having a c-section would mean I would have missed the birth of my son because I would have been put under a general anesthetic. In light of that, my obstetrician (a Doctor of Osteopathy) did everything in her power to ensure I had a vaginal delivery. That included an episiotomy, and I am okay with that. Healing was fine. I just squirted with a squirter rather than using toilet paper for a few days. Reply I'm not planning on even trying for another 2 years, but I got my ass to the gym to try and drop these extra 60 pounds BEFORE I incubate. Who needs extra health issues during pregnancy, right? Reply Get in shape. Really work on your core muscles, your stomach, your back… Those are so taxed during the late pregnancy and being in shape beforehand is really helpful. If you have any medical problems that you've been meaning to take care of (new glasses, mole removal, dental issues, vaccinations, minor surgery) do those now. All of it is much more difficult (or impossible) when pregnant or after you have a child. That's my best advice. (That, and go to the movies! 🙂 ) Reply I'm in the same boat. We'll probably have kids in 4 or 5 years. The thing I did really early (3 years ago, when we'd just started dating) was to see if my then boyfriend/now fiance would be on board with home birth. I was only 20 when we met, but couldn't stop reading about birth online, and even though I didn't know if we'd end up together, and that if we did, it would be a long time before we had kids, I wanted to make sure we fit together on this issue. He's a paramedic, so his training has given him more of a tendency toward thinking of birth as an emergency (though, I learned, not much more than 95% of the rest of the population). We got that all squared away, he's on board for home birth, excited for BFing and cloth diapers, and I even convinced him that having 2 dairy goats at our future Seattle home is a good idea… Jesus, I must be persuasive. Reply I must be persuasive too. My hubby is just finishing up a nursing program, and was a volunteer first responder, and he is all on board for home water birth ("as long as there's no complications" he is quick to state), breast feeding, elimination communication and cloth diapering, homeschooling…really he's all on board! ^_^ and we are about a year away from even trying, but i'm a planner… Reply Kegels are great for your health all the time, even if you're not planing on ever having kids. Reply True! They make sex better too. Reply Although from what I have read, you need to counterbalance them with squats to keep your glutes strong: http://sweetsprouts.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/keeping-your-body-in-balance-squats-and-pelvic-floor-strength/ / http://mamasweat.blogspot.com/2010/05/pelvic-floor-party-kegels-are-not.html Reply I agree with bhn; the most important thing you can do to pre-prepare for a future pregnancy is getting healthy and fit. I *DON'T* mean by dieting, but rather eating nutritiously and (depending on what works for you) exercising moderately. I'm kind of in the same boat – although we're planning on starting to try to get pregnant in August. So what I've done is take charge of my health: we've always eaten fairly healthy, but now I'm way more conscious about getting a hold of organic foods, not eating processed foods (no matter how tempting it is to grab something on the run at school!) and making sure that I get moving at least a couple of times a week. Taking charge of my health also meant going to the doctor for a 'pre-conception' checkup; if any health issues were lurking, I wanted to be able to take care of them in advance or at least be aware & factor them in. This included blood tests for Hep B & C (the result of piercings and tattoos; it never hurts to make 100% sure), cholesterol & hormone levels, etc. On another level, we also started to stock up – piece by piece – on stuff like baby clothes, a highchair that was on sale, a crib that a friend was getting rid of (it sits in the garage), etc. This was just so that we don't have to outlay a whole bunch of cash all at once – or at least, not as much. To sum up: it never hurts to be prepared, but doing specific stuff like perineal massage (I haven't heard of it actually making a difference, either) is sort of pointless until you're incubating a tiny human, IMO. Use this time to research the OB-GYNS in your area, the midwives – some of them have *long* waiting lists – that are available, childcare options, schools and what sort of benefits etc. you're entitled to once you've delivered, so that you can plan ahead as much as you're able to with full information. Don't get too caught up in it, though – it's the information that's important; IMO, the time for deciding is when it's all actually happening. Oh, yeah – and have fun! Reply You won't need to do perineal massage YET, but don't write it off as not making a difference. Perineal massage GREATLY diminishes the chance of tearing during birth. The midwives I and being taught by say that they advise and teach perineal massage to ALL of their clients and only have maybe 5 tears a year in all of their patients. It's important! Reply My midwife, Tonya Brooks – who has been at 6000+ births and is an encyclopedia of knowledge – would argue against perineal massage. I didn't know, so my husband and I practiced perineal massage in the last few weeks. It greatly weakened the tissue and actually caused much worse tearing than I otherwise would have had, including a button hole tear – hello, free labia piercing, didn't know I was signing up for you! So please, kegels and squats, but NO perineal massage!!! There are much better methods during birth to reduce tearing, such as hot compresses, and the midwife putting pressure – holding the skin really – as the head is crowning. Reply I don't know about YEARS in advance, but it was certainly helpful for me to start charting my fertility for about 6-9 months before we started trying to conceive. fertilityfriend.com has a useful took for this, and reading the book "Taking Charge of your Fertility" is a suggestion in order to get super aware of your body and your cycle in preparation for conception and pregnancy. I also tried to start eating healthier and being more active well in advance of getting pregnant, because I wanted to have already developed healthy habits before I had to be concerned about keeping a growing fetus healthy, in addition to myself. 🙂 Reply Good idea! I currently just chart my periods in an iPhone app, but I'll probably start doing a more in-depth charting when we're ready to conceive. Hopefully we'll just be able to conceive within the course of our regular sex life, but if that doesn't work after a few months, what a great resource to have at the ready! Reply I use http://www.mymonthlycycles.com to track my cycle. It's free. Not the best site design but it's simple and it works. Reply Yes!!! I won't start trying for another year, but charting has really helped me channel my crazy baby-making urges. When I started charting six months ago I even discovered that my luteal phase was scarily short, and in that time I've managed to lengthen it by five days. Really glad I didn't have to deal with that when I was trying to conceive. Reply Right on! I learned that I had relatively late ovulation [I ovulated on cycle day 19 (give or take 1 day) the cycle I got pregnant]. Things could have gotten really frustrating really fast if I had kept trying to get pregnant on/around cycle day 14 (the day the collective "they" say you ovulate). We used artificial insemination to get pregnant, so knowing my cycle REALLY well was super important in preparation for taking the big plunge (no, that's not a syringe/turkey baster pun). Lol. Point is, every body is different! Get to know yours as best you can. Reply Getting physically ready is important, but mental health and over all well being are equally important. These are somethings that I think of … Enjoy yourself!!! Children are wonderful (it goes without saying, but worth mentioning), but you WILL miss some aspects of child-free life. Make your relationship with your partner the best that it can be. Although you and your partner will grow closer, it can also become challenging to maintain that and work on stuff once you have a baby (or two or three …). Self care. Whatever that means to you. Get in the habit now of having a healthy lifestyle. It pays off. Probably more than the perineal massage. Do some planning … it's fun to plan and talk about your future baby. Look into OBGYNs, midwives, doulas, etc. In my experience, being fit helps. I'm happy that I started from a healthy place before children, because it is physically demanding. From pregnancy, labor, newborn and now chasing and carrying a preschooler and caring for a second child. I am in demand all day. Once again … enjoy yourself. Have fun. Create a lifestyle that supports having children and being happy and well. Reply Strengthen your body (healthy eating and exercise). Strengthen your relationship with your significant other and support community (friends, family). Strengthen your emotions/mind (work through old emotional baggage – you don't want to pass that crap to your kid!). If in the US, get on good health insurance (if possible). Practical advice when much closer to pregnancy: The advice seems to start folic acid around 3 months before pregnancy, if possible. My acupuncturist told me the one thing to do (when I finally get pregnant) is hold a squat position (yoga squat) for a few minutes or longer every day to strengthen the pelvic floor and lower back. Reply I'm one of those not-yet-mothers that is doing all she can to prepare for pregnancy and motherhood– YEARS before I even plan to conceive. I am doing all the research I can on development inside the womb and how certain medications can affect baby. I'm researching all the pros/cons of Unassisted Homebirth as opposed to Midwife-Assisted Homebirth, and Hospitals as opposed to Birth Centers. I'm researching what to do with the placenta (should I do a lotus birth, eat it, plant it, discard it?). I'm reading all about cloth diapering and elimination communication, baby signing, extended breastfeeding, and child-led weaning. I sometimes browse childrens clothing websites to see if I can find plenty of gender-neutral clothing that is actually cute. I'm looking into the pros/cons of Unschooling, Homeschooling, Private School, Public School… etc. And yes, I even rub some cocoa butter lotion on my belly, partially to prevent or reduce the occurrence of stretch marks some day. Perhaps all this is WAYYYYY too much, too soon! But I feel that by absorbing all the knowledge my brain can handle, I'll be so much more prepared for when it actually happens. I'll have the necessary information handy when I actually have to make all those decisions years from now. And who knows? I might discover I'm pregnant tomorrow and I might choose to continue the pregnancy. Then I'll have to make all those decisions sooner than I thought. (but hopefully not!) Reply There is a great book about fetal development I recently read: Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives by Annie Murphy Paul. You should check it out if you haven't already 🙂 Reply I am also one of the (apparently good number) of women that a pre-preparing for pregnancy and motherhood. My husband and I have been trying to eat right, exercise more, and basically find a nice routine for us before we bring another human into our family. The other things that we have been doing to prepare are things around the house. What things need to be updated or changed before we have a tiny human? Along with how much are those things going to cost us to do. My favorite though is looking at things I would want for when we have a baby. I want cloth diapers, but it is kind of expensive to start. How much should we have saved so that we won't be financially strapped when we get pregnant. How much does a crib cost? I want a rocking chair, how much do I need to save for that. Big ticket items I look at and have a special place in our budget for "future baby stuff", "medical insurance for baby fund". We know that there are expensive things and financially are trying to prepare for those things as well, so that when we finally are pregnant we won't have to worry about some of the financial changes. Plus baby stuff shopping kinda helps the baby crack symptoms. 🙂 Reply I think the vitamins and all the healthy lifestyle things that others have mentioned are a great idea before pregnancy. Getting into good habits and having a healthy body will make pregnancy and delivery, and recovery lot easier. Also, I didn't think hospitals really did episiotomies routinely any more. I was told that they were mainly done back in the day to make room for foreceps, then they just got in the habit of doing it to everyone. Now days they don't bother with it. The clinic I went to had a handout on perineal massage to reduce tearing. Reply It definitely depends on the hospital, and the doctor. Ask your doctor – what percentage of births do you have to perform an episiotomy? Reply Just thought I'd let people know that I've had 3 kids w/ 1 episiotomy and 2 tears and my sex life is the still fine as before. I don't know why people think that if it's stretched once, it stays that way. My first times after each baby was tight like the first time. It's like starting over, but this time you know what you're doing. Make healthy a habit and don't let your head get in the way! A relaxed parent is a (usually) relaxed child. Reply BELLYDANCE!! At least one story behind the origin of bellydance is that it was designed to allow rural women to work [in the fields] as late into their pregnancy as possible and then return to it as quickly as possible. Whether or not this is true, traditional bellydance does specifically strengthen and tone all the muscles used for baby making and delivering. Plus, it's tons of fun! Reply I agree with the previous posters and just wanted to add one thing I haven't seen mentioned. I'm reading Slow Death By Rubber Duck, about all the toxins and pollutants we encounter in our daily lives, and would recommend that you try to reduce your exposure to toxins as much as possible in the years leading up to conception. Limit consumption of tuna and other top fish predators, yes, but also get knowledgable about your cosmetics, cleaning products, and the like and take a good hard look at what's in them. BPAs, pthalates, flame retardants, teflon– all that stuff gets into our system from everyday exposures, and into our babies! Reply Start tracking your cycles. Are they regular? Crazy irregular? If they aren't regular, it could signal an issue like PCOS, etc. that you might want to start getting seen for, before you want to try to conceive. Eat right. Eat organic. Take vitamins. Not body related, but… Have a ton of fun. Drink a lot. Party. Travel. Ride roller coasters. Before it's too late! Start saving money. Reply Oh and read the book, <a href="Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Reply Yes, Sarah, there is something you can and *should* do years in advance: find someone who will make a good parenting partner with you. And once you've found that person, work on making your relationship with him or her as strong as possible. Reply There are a couple things I wish I'd done: 1) Paid more attention to my diet and fitness. I was fairly fit before I got pregnant but could have been more so. 2) Been just a little more financially prepared. I totally agree with those who say that if you wait until you're "ready" you'll never have kids. However, I wish I'd had a little bit of savings. Unexpectedly having to quit work 7 months earlier than expected took a huge toll on our finances (although we got through it better than I thought we would). 3) Worried less and had more fun. Reply Such great ideas, most of which I totally agree with. The only thing that I could possibly add would be to talk to people with children. I found stories, advice, and random thoughts from current parents to be invaluable as a form of research. I didn't necessarily agree with everything (and they didn't have to know that), but talking to them helped me discover things about myself and think of things that I might not have. Reply Well, I'm just now pregnant with my first child, so I don't have as much perspective as the other mamas here. But for me the most important thing was to make sure I had a solid foundation with my partner and future co-parent. Of course I'm attracted to him and we have great chemistry, but I also had to make sure we had the same parenting philosophies, and that we both wanted the same things from a family and from life. I hope that this will help us be strong together during the inevitable tough times ahead. Reply in the same vein as the pre-conception tune-up and the yoga or bellydancing to strengthen abdominal and pelvic muscles: if you're at all hoping for a vaginal delivery, get your pelvis checked out by an osteopath (a medical doctor with a DO degree, rather than an MD — specifically, you want one who practices OMM, or osteopathic manipulative medicine). this isn't a pelvic exam like the yearly visit to the gyno — it's a structural exam looking at all the bony and muscular components of your pelvis and addressing any issues that may cause complication, like a tailbone (coccyx) in a position where it could get broken during childbirth, or a pelvis-spine connection that is likely to cause lots of back pain as your center of gravity shifts. Reply I hope not to come off as too confrontational, but what is the point of this exam? Is there something that can be changed if a problem is discovered? Or is it just a way to try to predict which women should go straight to the OR for a cesarian? Reply A lot of pelvic issues can be addressed before pregnancy if they are treated with manual adjustments and or exercises or pressure points. Reply what denni said. =) OMM (and possibly other treatments, too, that's just the one i'm most familiar with) is great for helping to resolve long-standing trauma or repetitive stresses — did you dance or play sports as a kid? ever been in an accident? have chronic aches and pains? — which is a good tune-up any time, and especially before pregnancy. it can also be used to address issues that come up during gestation that might otherwise be untreatable. there is also a treatment modality that, when everything else is ripe and ready, induces labor. Reply Osteopaths that are trained in osteopathic manipulation can help realign the pelvis in very subtle (but effective) ways. I saw an Osteopath 3x during my last few months of a 2 year TTC process. Not only was it helpful for my infertility (obviously) but helped tremendously with my back pain. Also, read this blog: katysays.com This physiotherapist's blog will change everything you thought you knew about kegels. I wish I'd known this before I got pregnant/ gave birth. As it is, it's helped me have sognificatly less cramping and lower back pain. Totally awesome! Reply I'm not a mom, but I am studying preconception health at grad school and am working on my doula certification. In addition to what everyone has already said above (being physically active, having 'you' time, trying to eat consciously/organic, multivitamin with folic acid, etc.), I'd suggest a few more things: 1. Start taking an iron supplement if you don't already. Most American women are borderline anemic anyway, and taking iron will benefit your baby as she develops (esp. brain growth) and get more iron in your breastmilk 2. In regards to exercise, try yoga (abdominal muscles!), Kegels, and weight lifting in your legs and arms/shoulders/back–labor will be a big strain on your quads and you'll be carrying around that cute baby for a long time 3. Reduce your exposure to plastics and chemicals. These toxins can stay in your blood stream for years, and affect your baby in utero and the rest of her life, including causing her to experience puberty earlier, which has all sorts of physiological and psychological consequences 4. MAKE SURE YOUR PARTNER IS HEALTHY, TOO!! Not only will that be important when you're both watching the kid, but your partner's health status at the time of conception will affect your kid for the rest of her life (specifically, with obesity–this is based on research that just came out a couple months ago!) Good luck! Reply Do you have any recommendations for iron supplements? I have tried a couple different kinds of "women's daily" type vitamins with iron, and they literally make me vomit. Empty stomach, full stomach…makes no difference. I'd love to find a way to get more iron…I try to incorporate it into my diet more, but I'm self-employed, work crazy-weird hours, and often only eat one meal a day 🙁 Reply I have the same reaction to iron supplements. Thankfully I had decent iron levels when tested (without the supplements)so my doc is happy for me to just get a little more from my diet while pregnant. 36 weeks and no probs so far. For any aussies, she recommended a glass of milo and a serve of nutragrain a day is usually plenty of iron if you arent anemic prior to pregnancy. Reply Floradix (or Floridix? I think with the a). Reply I'm pregnant and take Floradix and find it tolerable- it tastes like sickenly sweet berry juice with a hint of spinach to me- but I just take it like a shooter and rinse afterwards. Reply Probiotics also help with constipation and they are safe and even encouraged for pregnant women. I take the probiotic Sustenex religiously for my IBS and was very happy to learn that it is safe for use during pregnancy. before getting pregnant, talk with your partner about all of the what ifs, (even the really crappy ones) like what if the baby does not make it to term, or what if it has a severe birth defect? What will you do? They are tough questions but better to know how you both would handle those situations sooner rather than later. Also, does your health insurance cover pregnancy/delivery/miscarriages/fetal loss? Or would that all be out of pocket? Reply I am thinking ahead myself and the mental health issue is my biggest concern. This might not apply to you, but having been diagnosed with bipolar I have been focusing on learning my trigger issues and getting medication to a level that I can continue or will be a less severe dropping off point. Reply The biggest, biggest thing for us was to talk about parenting philosophies. We grew up very differently, and it was really helpful to reconcile our different opinions and ideas well in advance of being sleep-deprived, hormonal wrecks. Regardless of how these ideas actually get applied in practice, having talked about them helps a LOT. (I recommend Alphie Kohn's "Unconditional Parenting" as a useful book and a place to begin conversations.) Also, n'thing the getting-in-shape idea — I really wish I had done that, because not being in great shape limited my ability to exercise during pregnancy. It ultimately didn't affect my labor, but my friends who were in better shape were able to keep their levels of activity high throughout their pregnancies. Reply So I was in Zumba class today and the instructor was 33 weeks and 5 days into her pregnancy and she was more active than most of the class. It was inspiring! Reply We are planning on starting to trying to conceive in August after we have been married one year. I am calling this the year of Tina. I am planning on doing two tris and I have lost some of the wedding weight I gained and we are having fun with friends. I thought I was kind of silly to do this but it looks like others are doing the same things. Thank you offbeat community. If anyone has any other recommendations for books, I would would appericate it. I recently read Our Babies, Ourselves. An interesting book on how cultural normals for parenting developed and how our biology shapped these norms. I never really thought about co-sleeping but after reading the book its seems so natural. Reply BELLY DANCE AND PILATES!!!! Reply Getting into a routine of nurturing your body and soul before a baby is conceived is a great move. A new babe is something no one can prepare you for and if you are not used to eating well and caring for yourself it could be easy to neglect yourself in those early months. A lot of talk and thought about the type of birth you want is paramount. You can choose. Don't be told otherwise. It is your birth, your body. I knew I wanted an completely unhindered birth for my babe and so gave her one. In her own time. Of course, staying out of the medical system made this so much easier. But, the one thing I think so many overlook in the pre conception time is nutting through with your partner how you want to parent. I find many women are in conflict with their partners over parenting styles and having children already in arms makes it so much harder. Having boundaries in place over what you will accept from your partner before the birth makes life so much easier. Read read read. There are some wonderful books out there amongst the tripe. 'Heart to heart Parenting' by Robin Grille is a great starting point. Alfie Kohn's 'Unconditional Parenting' is another. Knowing how you want to treat your child before they are born is an all important cornerstone that you will come back to over and over again. The simpler the better imo. Our overall parenting philosophy is simply to treat our children with the same respect that we treat adults. To consider how they feel about any given situation and love them unconditionally. In short, I think pre conception preparation is monumentally important. But I believe that there are far greater things to consider than stretch marks. Reply What about prenatal vitamins? I have always STRONGLY advocated that any woman who is sexually active, even those who use protection, should take a vitamin with folic acid, because it benefits the fetus most before you even realize you are pregnant. That means that if you have any surprise blessings, then it still has a great start! Reply My OBGYN advises all women of childbearing age take prenatal vitamins, beginning with menarche (first period). I have been taking prenatals since I was a teenager, long before I was sexually active. Reply Already doing that! Plus, when you DO get pregnant well after you start taking prenatals, it can help prevent birth defects like spina bifida. Reply Take Folate (usually should take more than what is in the daily vitamin) Reply I'm also 4 or 5 years out, but we're talking about it. A couple of things that I'm doing to pre-prepare: 1. Get physically healthy – this doesn't just mean going to the gym and losing the extra pounds. This means detoxing. Go smoke-free, eat leafy greens, get your Omega-3's, bike to work. 2. Get emotionally healthy – My hubs won't knock me up until I feel good about myself. I have struggled for years with extra weight, and it has taken a tremendous toll emotionally. For me, it's crucial to confront and deal with the emotional backlog before I start such a hugely emotional and hormonal journey. If there's something you've been holding on to, start working on it now, before you have a kajillion other things going on, like bringing a healthy baby into the world! Reply It's utterly practical, but make sure you've got all shots etc. I found out when I was pregnant that I'd never had the chicken pox. (I guess it was just the flu and a co-incidental rash?!?) Had I known before hand, I could have gotten immunized. Reply Another totally practical (though non-romantic) bit of advice- If you are the one getting pregnant (as opposed to your partner) and you are self-employed, get disability insurance now! Disability insurance will pay you while you take maternity leave! However once you are pregnant you can't get disability insurance. It's pretty affordable (compared to other insurance premiums I pay) but for me it's peace of mind that I will have SOME kind of income while I take maternity leave from my own business! Reply I'd suggest you see your doctor to get a pre-conception check up. I just had one in December with the view of trying to concieve 2 months later. I had blood tests to check immunity levels for rubella and chicken pox, salt, sugar, folate and iron levels and also thyroid tests. I was then diagnosed with Graves Disease (overactive thyroid) I had no idea how important your thyroid is to pregnancy and now i'm on medication and it could be at least another 6 months, if not longer, before i can start trying. I am devastated as i am desperate for a bubba and i have to wait even longer. If i'd found out earlier i could have been treated before i was at this point. Now i'm just buying little tiny baby clothes to get my fix. So i think it would be a good idea for you to have a check up! Good luck! Reply I highly recommend checking out this blog: http://www.feedingthesoil.com/ Sara, the blogger, just had her first child (woohoo!) and all the prep work she did before she decided to get pregnant is documented on there – it has been a huge help to me and my partner in preparing to get pregnant ourselves! I also did her e-course on Purposeful Conception, and that was a huge help, too – there are many ways you can prepare, not just physically, but financially, emotionally, spiritually, etc. And it's totally not weird at ALL that you want to start planning now. Not that you are feeling weird, but I sure did, until I met a ton of other thoughtful, prepared Offbeat Mamas-to-Be! Reply Thank you so much for your kind words, Leah! It was awesome to get to know you better through the class, and I've been following the progression of your business on A Practical Wedding. Congratulations! Reply I might be repeating what everyone else has said but I think the things you are talking about can wait until pregnancy, instead focus on other things like: 1. eating healthy and making sure to exercise regularly 2. getting your finances in order (pay off debt, have at least 6 months emergency savings, have a good retirement plan, and if you can start this already: college savings 3. avoid toxins. things like parabens (preservatives found in most cosmetics) are toxic, perfumes, etc. there are a number of new toxin free, perfume free products that are relatively inexpensive. toxins can build up in your body which affects your baby so start eliminating them. 4. simplify your life. get rid of clutter at home and anything that is a big time waste (tv, too much time on internet) focus more on building a healthy relationship with your partner and friends & family. you'll need their support when the time comes. as for your concerns: 1. kegels. these are good for any woman to do anyway but you have plenty of time during your pregnancy as well. 2. perenium. most midwives recommend you start doing this at 32-34 weeks into pregnancy (fairly late) so I wouldn't worry about doing it any earlier. as long as you aren't lying on your back during labor most women have a good chance of not needing an episiotomy or tearing. 3. stretch marks. you should apply moisturizer after showering anyway just to keep your skin supple and healthy but I wouldnt worry about applying extra. stretch marks are pretty much genetic so you will either get them or not, I think the body butters might just help to minimize the damage. either way the marks appear after rapid loss/gain so if you arent planning on doing that until pregnancy skip it and just stick to daily moisturizing. 4. folic acid. just focus on a healthy diet. eat lots of leafy greens and legumes which are good sources of folate, and start taking the prenatals and folic acid 3 months before you start trying to conceive. Good luck! Reply I wouldn't do any more than eating and exercising sensibly, and using body lotion after the bath, and do them for yourself, above all. I didn't do any of these things with pregnancy in mind, but I got no stretchmarks last time, I think because I've moisturised after the bath for over 10 years (I otherwise have very dry skin). And I've really been recommending to everyone I know who's pregnant and does some exercise to keep it up – I think it helped my last pregnancy, and is helping my current one, not to be too physically taxing. So if you're not regularly exercising now, start doing it and enjoy how it makes you feel, and when it's your time to be pregnant, you have the added bonus of reaping the benefits then. Reply Not so much body related but life related: i wish i had gotten rid of so much of the stuff i've held on to!!! having a baby has really made me realize how little of it i actually need or want anymore. and with a baby comes a baby's "things" and they all need a place to go…so that stack of birthday cards from when i was 7? Don't need you anymore. I want the closest space instead. Reply OK, here's the deal on folic acid. You need folic acid in your diet to help with making new cells, but if you eat a healthy balanced diet, you're probably AOK. Very very early in pregnancy, an embryo needs extra folic acid to make the spine and brain from a U shape (open at the back) into a closed O. If there isn't enough folic acid then the spine won't seal up properly and that's what spina bifida is. So that's why you take folate if you plan to get pregnant – because the embryo will need it before you have any way of knowing it's there. You do not need to take extra folate if you have no chance of conceiving. Reply Yes, but I would say that there are a lot of women out there who have very little chance of conceiving, but surprises still happen. Due to the fact that folate gives the most benefit before you even realize you are pregnant in a lot of cases, I always feel better safe than sorry. Reply I sent this in – thanks so much, Stephanie, for posting it! This advice has been super great, especially all of the encouragement about starting early on exercise and healthy diet. I happen to be lucky that my body retains a pretty decent level of fitness even when I'm eating poorly and not exercising, but I really need to nix some of my grad-student diet choices (goldfish crackers and microwave pizza are not an acceptable meal!) and get back into doing yoga. Also, the mental advice about talking with the partner is super helpful. My current partner knows I want to have a baby at some point, and he's pretty ambivalent about it – he says he just never really thought much about whether or not he'd have a kid. Getting him to talk about anything serious and future-oriented in any amount of detail is a huge undertaking, and it's good to have reinforcement that I need to make sure to talk through all of this before we actually start on this thing. Do any of you have advice for how to get an ambivalent, incommunicative guy to open up about this stuff? Reply Oh I do! If you know anyone with babies or kids, babysit them together with your guy! Having a little one there will just make talking about it more interesting and relevant to him, instead of some futuristic abstract idea. When I first saw my husband with my niece I was shocked! He was able to keep up with her and chase her around for hours while I was ready to get her to sit down and do some "quiet time" so I could relax! lol I remember telling him how awesome I thought he was and how my niece told me that she like him a lot as well (she's pretty shy too!) and he just opened up and told me that he's always wanted to be a father! This was my face: O_O It was so important that we continued talking about it and all the what ifs, because when I got pregnant when we just moved in together there was no fear or hesitation on his side, just full on support. Reply oooh, good idea! i have a niece, but we won't see her until the midsummer – i'll try to have us baby-sit her then! We don't really know anyone else with kids, though… Reply WOW! Thank you soooo much, everyone, for your thoughtful comments and suggestions. I literally welled up with tears when I found this post and all this wisdom because just in the last 24 hours I made the personal realization that my body and my babies NEED me to start prioritizing these things so I can be ready when the time comes (sometime in the next 3-5 years). I will start incorporating some of these suggestions into my process of becoming a mother right away. Thank you again! 🙂 Reply I second the position that the best thing to do is to take care of your body the best you can! Eat well, get into a healthy weight range, remain physically fit, and ENJOY LIFE! If you bring a baby into the world using a body that's got all that accomplished, you're way ahead of the game sista. Reply I've just started trying to do more exercise and improving my diet. I need to lose quite a bit of weight, but I'm trying to do it in a sustainable way, i.e. not crash dieting, so that my body will be ready. It's probably going to take a while, but I think that's the best preparation I can do right now. When I feel like quitting exercise, I just think, "I'm doing this for the baby.", and it really helps my motivation. I find chanting "Baby. Baby." etc in my head is also good mantra. Reply I had a stack of baby clothes a mile high when I got pregnant and specifically lost a bunch of weight so I could be healthier when I got pregnant. Reply I know this is an old post but.. my partner and I weren't planning to get pregnant for another two years. However, we've been committed to leading a "pregnant" lifestyle for the last three. By this, I cut out crap, got a lot of sleep, took prenatal vitamins (I found I was getting more bang for my buck w/ the prenatals vs. multis), continued a strenuous exercise regimen with my partner and also tried to eliminate or limit exposure to environmental toxins/etc. Our surprise pregnancy has been the best one because we've been on track for a few years and have been able to create strong habits (not just for me, but for us both). I think all these things helped us to be especially fertile and made it very easy to conceive, although we weren't trying. YMMV but it's never to early to start preparing. I was most concerned about having a very high level of fitness prior to conceiving – I ran 13 marathons (was actually going for 20 before preggo) and focused on exercises that strengthened my posterior chain (powerlifting/olympic lifting). Reply I've been wondering this myself. From what I've read, ditch birth control 6 months in advance, as it changes how your body will process vitamins and also to give your hormones time to adjust back to normal. Also, you want to eat very healthily starting 6 months out, with a particular boost of folic acid, so your body can build up its vitamin stores – the baby will suck up your stores, so if you're fully loaded beforehand, and keep eating well during pregnancy, then you can better the chances that both you and the baby will be healthy. Reply I really love this question and all of the answers! This is exactly where I'm at with my baby crack. My life won't be ready for a baby for a few more years, but I feel like i'm close enough maybe I should start preparing my body. I just quit smoking, and have been trying to get more healthy. Reply Wow, tons of great tips!! Something I haven't seen (but I didn't read everything) is to get your finances in shape, that can take a LONG time. Pay off consumer debt (credit card debt, line of credit) entirely, pay down any outstanding loans like personal loans, cars, etc. Put as much money on your mortgage and student loans as you can. Start an emergency fund if you don't have one (a healthy emergency fund should have a min of 3 months worth of ALL expenses, we've been working on ours for 18 months now and we can cover ONE month of expenses, since we can only afford to put in small amounts every 2 weeks) . Get life insurance, start your RRSPs, start a savings account for baby stuff. SAVE SAVE SAVE, unless you get 100% mat leave top up, you will need to have savings to pay for things that you want to do (maybe a mom and baby swim class!). I LOVE Gail Vaz-Oxlade, http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/. She's got the show "till debt do us part". It's fantastic. 🙂 I heartily agree with getting your health and body into optimal conditions. Cut out negative things, fill your life with positives and love and support. Read baby books. My wife and I started prepping 3 years ago (although I wish we had known more, we would have made bigger changes!), so you're not alone. 🙂 Good luck! Reply Join the conversation Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *Comment Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Subscribe me to your mailing list No-drama comment policy Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.