Here is a guide to help you plan for your pregnancy physically, financially and emotionally.
You don’t need to be a top athlete to have a baby – but it’s a great idea to get your body ready before you try to conceive.
Have a look at your lifestyle – do you have a healthy diet? Are you getting regular exercise? Do you smoke or drink coffee or alcohol? What medications, herbal preparations or drugs (legal or otherwise) do you take regularly?
And although women need to prepare their bodies for pregnancy, men play a pretty important role in the conception stage, so it’s worth making sure you are both involved in getting physically ready.
Regular gentle exercise can usually continue throughout conception and pregnancy; it is usually wise to discuss your exercise regime with your doctor to make sure that you can keep up your present activity.
Follow our general guidelines to prepare your body to make and carry a baby and cut down on harmful extras like alcohol, coffee, tobacco and non-essential drugs.
Women should also try to increase their intake of folic acid (a vitamin present in green leafy vegetables and some cereals) for three months before they try to conceive, to prevent neural tube defects. Keep up the folic acid intake until three months into a pregnancy; many good folic acid supplements are available in pharmacies.
Men aren’t off the hook when it comes to eating sensibly; sperm take 75 days to develop, and some researchers recommend that men ensure they are eating a healthy diet that includes adequate zinc and selenium (or take a multivitamin) for at least three months before conception.
Sometimes health advice can be confusing. Some research suggests that high levels of mercury in some seafood can be particularly bad for couples wanting to become pregnant, however many experts note that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon are very good for you and vital for a baby’s brain development.
If you’re confused, talk to your doctor or a trusted nutritionist to get the full story.
You can also read our article on fish, essential fatty acids and Omega 3 in the feeding your baby section.
Try to plan a visit to your General Practitioner before you start trying for a baby. Knowing your medical history, doing some simple tests and identifying some precautions that you in particular may need to take, can make your pregnancy planning much more smoothly.
Before you visit your doctor, though, there’s some information that you need to gather.
It’s worth making the struggle to recall those long-forgotten childhood illnesses. Have you had measles, mumps or rubella? What is your immunisation history?
What other illnesses have you had? Any sexually transmitted diseases that either partner has experienced may be relevant; also note any surgery or chronic conditions for either of you.
Talk to your parents and your partner’s parents – or perhaps other relatives – to find out more detail about both your childhood illnesses – and also, your families’ genetic histories. Are there twins in the family? What about inherited diseases?
Some diseases are particularly relevant to pregnancy; for example, are you predisposed to diabetes or heart disease? Gather information about serious illnesses that you have had or that appear regularly in your family – like high blood pressure, cancer, epilepsy, kidney disease or arthritis.
A woman’s gynaecological history is important at this time; you will be asked about menstrual patterns, sexual history, pap smear history, use of birth control and any previous pregnancies, miscarriages, abortions or births, and about any other gynaecological issues. If you haven’t kept a menstrual diary in the past you might consider doing so now.
Sometimes, delving into your family history may uncover information about blood relatives with hereditary disorders. Family history may mean that you may (or may not) have a greater risk of passing on genetic disorders (like cystic fibrosis), chromosomal disorders (such as Down’s syndrome) or congenital defects (like cleft palate).
Some of the more common genetic diseases include haemophilia, thalassemia (more common in those with a Greek heritage), Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell anaemia (more common in those with an African heritage), and cystic fibrosis.
A specialist genetic counsellor can help you understand your risk of passing on a hereditary disease and how you might manage this risk or what other decisions you might make. Other reasons to seek genetic counselling may include a history of repeated miscarriages or a blood relationship between partners.
Your doctor can arrange a referral if you are concerned.
At this visit, you can talk to your doctor about your plans and have a full medical check-up. A basic examination will include heart-rate, blood pressure, a breast check and pap smear (if this is due.)
Your doctor may order some blood and urine tests; for example, your doctor may check that you have antibodies to rubella (also called German measles), as exposure in early pregnancy can often cause birth defects like deafness. Even immunised women may lose immunity, so you may face another vaccination and then a three-month delay in conception to prevent your baby being exposed to the virus, which is still quite common.
In pregnancy, rapid hormone changes can trigger all sorts of reactions; you can discuss these with your doctor in light of your own medical history.
Having a record of your blood pressure before pregnancy also makes it easier to monitor changes in blood pressure during pregnancy that may indicate potential problems like pre-eclampsia, which can be managed with early intervention.
Discuss your current contraception with your doctor so that you have a plan in place for stopping contraception before trying to conceive. If condoms or diaphragms are used, little planning is required, but those on the pill or with an IUD or implanted contraceptives may need to stop contraception anything up to a few months before attempting to conceive.
You can also talk to your doctor about your plans for pregnancy care; you may choose to be referred to an obstetrician, a midwife, a hospital birth centre or to have shared care between your General Practitioner and a specialist.
It’s true, babies don’t need much in the early days, despite the masses of baby gear available in shops. The most difficult thing for most couples to handle is the loss of income when the baby’s primary caregiver stops work. If you both choose to continue working, child care can also be very costly.
If you haven’t already done so, a visit to an accredited financial planner may help you to identify how to manage your finances for your new family. You can find one through the Institute of Financial Advisors.
You may be eligible for a government Maternity Payment when your child is born and may also be entitled to other benefits like Working For Families Tax Credits, depending on your income and assets.
The Inland Revenue Department website for Family Assistance has a useful section which explains the current government assistance available for parents Working For Families Tax Credits.
Some careers are more family-friendly than others. If you are in a role that you don’t wish to continue during pregnancy or beyond, you may want to think about how you will handle this. Permanent employees must be employed for twelve months before they are eligible for parental leave, so make sure you have considered the implications of pregnancy if you are thinking about changing your work plans.
The Career Practitioners Association of New Zealand has a directory of careers advisers who are available for consultation if you are thinking about looking for a family-friendly career.
The Career Practitioners Association of New Zealand
More information about pregnancy and work is available here on the Huggies website.
Although research suggests that the majority of new parents in New Zealand still assume the traditional roles of male provider and female carer, most don’t discuss their new roles and responsibilities.
Author, Alison Osbourne, says new parents often have unspoken expectations about what their partner should do, what each parent should provide, even basic details about domestic duties, based on their own family background. These expectations that haven’t been communicated can lead to conflict.
She suggests that before they have a baby, partners discuss how they will share household duties outside core working hours and how each partner will get some time out alone after their baby is born.
Watch an episode of Huggies Mums and Bubs Online TV which features Alison’s advice.
Most maternity care is free for New Zealand women under the public health system.
It may be however that for any number of reasons you require specialist care or choose to go private. Private obstetric, midwifery and private hospital care during pregnancy and birth can be very expensive, so it is wise to ensure you have adequate health cover.
You can find a private health fund option to suit you through the directory service on:
Health Funds Association of New Zealand
Alternatively, the main health insurance providers usually list details of each plan on their websites.
When all your plans are in place, you are ready for the fun bit – conception
By "Fran Molloy, journalist and mum of four