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 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

    • 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. I highly recommend checking out this blog:

    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!

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

    • 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.

  15. 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?

    • 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.

      • 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…

  16. 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! 🙂

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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).

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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, 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!

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