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Whether you were ready to start trying yesterday or you'd like to get pregnant in the coming months, it's never too early to ask how you can have the best and healthiest pregnancy possible, says Maria J. Brooks, president of Lamaze International and a labor and birth nurse.
"Choosing to have a baby is a huge decision that is best made when you are physically healthy enough to carry and birth a baby, emotionally ready for the changes baby brings and financially able to support the costs of raising a child," she says. "Preparing for pregnancy mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially will promote a healthier and more positive experience and the best start for your baby."
Here are seven questions you can ask yourself to determine whether you're ready.
1. Is my partner fully on board?
Teamwork makes the baby dream work. So before you put a proverbial bun in the oven, have a serious talk with your partner about whether he or she is ready to be a parent, and how he or she envisions the parenting process. You may be surprised to find you have different opinions, warns Alison Bishop, founder of Boot Camp for New Moms. "And you certainly don't want to start from a place where the decision was one-sided and your partner comes grudgingly to the table."
2. Am I or is my partner a carrier of a genetic disorder?
Knowing may not prevent you from getting pregnant, but knowing whether you pose a genetic risk to your child could change the way you move through your pregnancy. "A simple blood test can be ordered for you and your partner and with the help of your physician you can review these results and move forward," says Jane L. Frederick, M.D., reproductive endocrinologist and medical director at HRC Fertility. "If a genetic disorder is discovered, there are options such as IVF to prevent your future child of having the disorder."
3. Are we fertile?
As women age, the health and number of our eggs often diminishes, and the motility and health of men's sperm can be affected, too. Frederick advices that women in their late 20s and older should visit their doctors in order to test their fertility as well as their partners. Now's also the time to look at how your lifestyle habits could affect your fertility. "It's important to avoid smoking, drugs, or drinking alcohol, as these can all impact your fertility, making it difficult to conceive or result in an unhealthy conception," Frederick says.
4. Who do I choose to be my pregnancy and childbirth care provider?
Your instinct may be to turn to the OB/GYN you've visited since you hit puberty. But you may find yourself scrambling after you've conceived if your OB/GYN doesn't deliver. Plus, you may choose to supplement your OB/GYN care with a midwife or family physician. "Healthy woman with healthy babies have many options for their care," says Brooks. "Your choice of care provider is very important and can impact how you feel during pregnancy and the type of birth you experience. You will be seeing him or her often during pregnancy and it is best to have a provider who is easy to talk to, meets your needs and shares your goals for pregnancy and birth."
5. Have I optimized my health and medical conditions?
Before you get pregnant, says Jason S. James, M.D., medical director of FemCare Ob-Gyn, you'll want to check your medications to make sure they're pregnancy safe. "Many medications can be unsafe in pregnancy, and particularly in the first trimester," he warns. But women who suffer from health afflictions, such as diabetes and lupus, will also need to consult with their doctor to make sure their health won't affect their babies. "If you have any significant medical problems, it is best to make sure they are well controlled before getting pregnancy to ensure the best possible outcome for both you and your baby," James says.
6. Are my finances healthy?
Let's be honest: Some people might never have children if they waited for all their financial stars to align. But if you've just graduated from law school with several thousand dollars in student loan debt, or you've heard whispers at work that layoffs are coming, you might want to hit pause until you find yourself on firmer financial footing, warns Bishop. "So many new parents would like to take time to be home with their new baby, but just can't make it work financially," she says.
7. Have I been taking prenatal vitamins with enough folic acid?
According to James, there is significant research to support that taking prenatal vitamins with a folic acid supplement for three months prior to conception significantly reduces the risk of birth defects like anencephay or spina bifida, and other conditions such as autism. So it's worth popping these pills way before you try to get pregnant. Ask your physician to recommend the right ones for you.