Can you get ready for pregnancy YEARS before you plan on having a baby?

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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.

Cocoa Butter 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?

Comments on Can you get ready for pregnancy YEARS before you plan on having a baby?

  1. 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.

    • 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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.

  3. 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).

    • 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.

      • Unfortunately, this varies greatly across the country. Some places still do them often.

        • 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!

      • 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.

        • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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!

    • 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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! 🙂 )

  6. 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.

    • 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…

  7. Kegels are great for your health all the time, even if you’re not planing on ever having kids.

  8. 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!

    • 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!

      • 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.

  9. 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. 🙂

    • 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!

    • 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.

      • 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!)

    • 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. 🙂

  13. 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.

    • It definitely depends on the hospital, and the doctor.

      Ask your doctor – what percentage of births do you have to perform an episiotomy?

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

    • 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?

      • A lot of pelvic issues can be addressed before pregnancy if they are treated with manual adjustments and or exercises or pressure points.

        • 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.

      • 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!

  23. 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!

    • 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 🙁

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • 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.

  24. 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?

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