Pregnancy Preparation & Conception
Having a baby will change your life
We sincerely hope that having a baby will change your life for the better, but you should know it’s no small feat. Not only do women carry and deliver babies and deal with the biochemical changes associated with this, we also care for our children while juggling other household responsibilities, and careers. However, if a woman stays true to herself when making decisions for herself and her family, we believe she will be more at peace with her decisions, be a happier person and a better mother for it.
Since no pregnancy, delivery or baby is the same, each experience will involve a different set of challenges and surprises, particularly if you or your baby is faced with health concerns. You should be able to maintain a higher level of predictability in your life during pregnancy and after your baby is born by doing things such as preparing a birth plan for labour and delivery or implementing a feeding and sleep schedule when your baby is a newborn. Calmmother's mission is to help you do this!
The physical and emotional changes you can expect during pregnancy, and after you have baby are discussed on the Pregnancy and Caring for you and your baby pages. Many of the other changes you experience after you have a baby will depend a lot on you personally and the circumstances of your life. This includes whether or not you are career focused or plan to take eternity leave from work after you have a baby.
It will also depend on your values and the desire to continue on with certain aspects of your single life. For example, you may want to continue to be able to have a career, sleep through the night, sleep in on weekends, exercise regularly, have date nights, travel, or all of the above. The longer the list of things, the more important prioritizing and compromise will be for you.
Before you have a baby, you may have preconceptions about how your single life will differ from your family life. Know that everything could change after you meet your baby - there is absolutely nothing wrong with this! If you make the decision to return to work sometime after your baby is born, you may become more focused on spending quality time with your family.
We encourage you to embrace the changes you experience during pregnancy, as a new mother and as your baby grows to be a toddler, preschooler and beyond. And always remember, as the heart of your family, your physical and emotional health is vital to their health and wellbeing - you will not be able to care for anyone else if you do not take care of yourself. Only you know what it takes to achieve and maintain a sense of balance in your life.
Your pre-pregnancy to do list
The factors you take into consideration when making the decision to have a baby will depend on you. You may want to wing it, which is great if that works for you. For those of us who prefer to plan our lives as much as possible, some important considerations are noted below, in no particular order.
Fitting a family into your goals
Goal setting can be beneficial for a number of reasons, including helping prioritize things that are important to you and giving you something to strive for and achieve. Goals should be realistic, and are most effective if they are written down and clearly defined (note 1). Wherever possible, try to include a date beside each specific goal.
Review your goals at least once every four to eight months, as well as if you have experienced a major achievement or life-changing event. If you plan to raise a child with another person, confirm that their goals align with yours about starting a family and other things that are important to you.
If you plan to have a baby with a partner, determine how stable your relationship is before you get pregnant, if possible. Maintaining healthy relationships with others takes dedication and commitment, and adding one or more children to the mix (coupled with sleep deprivation and other stresses), could make a rocky relationship very unstable. There is no shame in seeing a counsellor or psychologist to help strengthen your relationship with your partner, or for any other reason.
Download our Sample Goals Chart and tweak it to suit you.
The financial impact
Being aware of your financial situation can be a very helpful and important aspect of planning your family’s future. In North America, the estimated cost of raising one child to age 18 is around $700,000, and over a million for two. But before you go into shock and seriously consider opting for celibacy, you should know that these figures account for the price of post-secondary education as well as lost income and foregone investments (note 2).
If you or your partner plans to take time off after your baby is born, you may need to consider the cost of lost income. Alternatively, the cost of childcare may be something you need to think about. If you live in Canada, you may be entitled to a one-year paid maternity leave immediately before or after the birth of your baby (or date of adoption). Information about maternity leave benefits in Canada is available on the federal government’s website. If you live in the U.S., there is also information available online regarding applicable laws.
Since babies don’t require much more than the necessities of life, your costs during the first year shouldn’t be astronomical unless you go on a spending frenzy (which is easy to do because there are so many absolutely adorable things to buy for babies!). It is estimated that, in the U.S., you can expect to spend approximately $10,000 on your baby during the first year of her life (note 3).
It is less expensive if you live in Canada because of the country’s healthcare system – you would not have to pay for doctor and hospital visits, blood tests, immunizations or medical insurance, etc. BabyCenter has a helpful (and free) calculator for determining the cost of having a baby, as well as tips for saving money during the first year (note 4).
Determining who will care for your child can be heart wrenching. The decision for you or your partner to stay at home to care for your baby may involve assessing the cost of childcare versus the cost of lost income. It may also take a significant amount of time and effort to find a suitable childcare arrangement. If you have free childcare available to you such as grandparents, consider yourself lucky!
Only you will be able to decide whether it’s best for you to stay at home to care for your baby, or return to work after your baby is born – whether it’s immediately following delivery, after maternity leave, or when your child reaches a certain age. Most mothers we know tell us that you will question a decision or two, or have mother’s guilt about one thing or another, while you are raising a child regardless of whether you work from your home, work outside of the home or are a stay at home mom – don’t be too hard on yourself!
The price of childcare will vary depending on whether you hire a nanny, or take your child to a day home or daycare. Sharing a nanny with another family may be a good option, especially if you each have one child or if you only require part time care.
Balancing family and career
The decision to return to work may be a personal decision or practical, based on any one or more reasons such as your family’s financial situation. Expect spending quality time with your family and prioritizing your responsibilities (and your interests) to become increasingly more important to you the busier you become.
It is not easy to balance having a family and a career, both emotionally and from a career management perspective. The windows of opportunity for career advancement may be few and far between in your line of work. Taking time off work or reducing your work schedule could mean that you run the risk of losing a client or passing up a career advancement opportunity. That being said, your children are only young once and they grow up very quickly – each stage of your child’s life will pass before you know it!
As we mentioned above, if you are having a baby with a partner, make sure you are on the same page with respect to children. This includes expectations around childcare and household responsibilities. As we move away from a conventional family model, it is becoming more common for men to take time off work or work part time hours to care for their children. You will need to figure out how to divide parental and other household responsibilities in a way that works for your family.
Your health and wellbeing
While it is not always possible for couples to plan when they start a family, optimizing your health prior to getting pregnant can lead to many health benefits not just to your future baby but to you as mom and dad. A few other, perhaps more intuitive or practical reasons you may want to focus on your health and wellbeing before you get pregnant are listed below.
- You only have one body, so take care of it! Maintaining a suitable exercise program may increase your energy level and contribute to your mental health (it’s a total stress reliever!). There are so many benefits to exercising, including living a longer and healthier life (note 5).
- If you are physically fit during pregnancy, you may have a shorter and more manageable labour and delivery (note 6).
- Don’t count on being able to change your diet too much when you are pregnant, particularly if you experience morning sickness, or have cravings or food aversions.
Starting an intense exercise regime during pregnancy could be dangerous for you and your unborn baby. It could also be hard on your body. Consult with your medical doctor, naturopathic doctor or other qualified healthcare practitioner (healthcare provider) before you start.
- Expect to have a lot less time to exercise and do other things for yourself when you have a new baby in tow – unless you have a family member or two helping you out, or if you have hired support staff (such as cooks, cleaners and nannies) to assist you.
Consult your healthcare provider (your pre-pregnancy exam)
Before you try to conceive, visit your healthcare provider for a checkup (including pap and breast exam), and discuss your medical history, your physical and your emotional health. Also discuss the topics below in relation to your health or the health of your partner.
- Age and weight – This may affect your ability to conceive.
- Lifestyle – This may include but it not limited to the following:
- nutrition and appropriate vitamin and herbal supplements
- occupational health concerns and exposure to pesticides, toxins and other harmful exposures
- smoking, alcohol or recreational drug (use or abuse) and appropriate detox
- cutting back on your caffeine intake, and alternatives to caffeine such as tea that is considered safe during pregnancy, and
- stress-reduction, anxiety and depression.
- nutrition and appropriate vitamin and herbal supplements
- Medication – Including medication that you previously took, are currently taking or expect to take.
- Birth control – When to go off birth control, and whether you should detox and how.
It can take a few cycles for your body to normalize after you go off of any method of hormonal birth control. In some cases, it can take up to a year start to ovulating again and in others it can happen right away, this is very individual.
It is always ideal to come off oral birth control prior to when you want to become pregnant just in case it takes your hormones to regulate. Some women get pregnant right away so keep this in mind and use other methods such as barrier method if you are not ready to get pregnant right away. There isn’t a way to know how soon you will become pregnant but it is always ideal to get your body as healthy as you can prior.
Oral birth control depletes the body of B vitamins in your body so increasing these important nutrients in their activated form is essential. IUD forms of birth control work differently than oral forms and generally does not stop ovulation from occurring. This is especially true for the copper IUD while the progesterone IUD’s can reduce ovulation in 5-15% of women. Most women return to baseline fertility right after removal; however, it still may take a cycle or two to return to a pattern. This is more common with the hormone based IUD’s which tend to create light periods or stop flow all together.
- General health and the health of your reproductive organs – This may include current or prior infections, illnesses, sexually transmitted diseases and damage to the reproductive organs).
- How to increase your chances of getting pregnant – This may include reports on new studies, or use of appropriate lubricants.
Find out how to optimize your fertility below. More about health and wellbeing for women before, during and after pregnancy can be found at Calm Life through Integrative Health.
Consult his healthcare provider about his reproductive health
A man’s reproductive health is affected by his general health and wellbeing (note 7). Although the extent of reproductive checkup and testing will be on a case-by-case basis, below is list of things your partner might expect during a reproductive checkup.
- Medical history and physical exam – This may include a discussion about concerns about current (or prior) infections or illnesses, sexually transmitted diseases and damage to the reproductive organs. Also, lifestyle (stress, weight, exercise, nutrition, smoking, alcohol and recreational drug use or abuse), medications, and exposure to toxins.
- Semen analysis – An analysis of the number, movement and shape of the sperm.
- Other tests – The healthcare provider may recommend a scrotal or transrectal ultrasound to assess whether or not there are any blockages in the sperm pathway, or blood tests to determine if there are any hormonal deficiencies (note 8).
Further information about male fertility is below.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding your pregnancy, it could take anywhere from a day to a number of years for you to get pregnant. And, depending on your age and personality type, timing may not be a concern for you. Unfortunately, time is not as much of a luxury for women who decide to have a family in their late thirties or early forties simply because prospects of getting pregnant decline with age (note 9).
Most couples that are able to get pregnant conceive within six cycles with timed intercourse, meaning that the couples have sex at the time in the woman’s monthly cycle when they believe they are most fertile (note 10). However, your ability to conceive may depend on a number of the factors discussed below.Globally, approximately 14 percent of couples are infertile, which is defined as “the inability of a sexually active couple to get pregnant after one year of regular, unprotected intercourse” (note 19).
If you are not pregnant within a year from the time you start trying, consult your healthcare provider. Although there are a number of different types of treatment methods available to assist with fertility, you may want to start with a less invasive or more natural method such as acupuncture. Ask your healthcare provider (or fertility specialist) about each of the options available to you and do some research of your own so that you are in a position to make an informed decision based on their advice.
Increasing your chances of getting pregnant
Based on the experiences of some of the women we know, it is absolutely possible to get pregnant when you want to if you know when you are most fertile (or, quite frankly, by fluke the first time you try). There are a number of natural ways that are known to help improve your chances of getting pregnant, including maintaining a healthy weight, staying calm (and avoiding stress), protecting your male partner’s sperm count, and charting your fertility.
Improving his fertility
When it comes to infertility, the focus seems to be on women's health. However, the male factor counts for more than 30% of why couples have troubles conceiving (note 11).
When assessing for male influences, sperm is analyzed for volume, count, motility and morphology (form). To be successful, current guidelines suggest ideal volume to be greater than one milliliter, count over 48 million/mL, that over 63% of the sperm moves with purpose, and that less than 88% are abnormally formed. We know that sperm is very sensitive to the environment. In fact, infertility has been seen more in men who work in more blue collar or industrial positions compared to those in white collar positions. Sperm is produced three months prior to when it is released which is another factor to consider when preparing for conception. Therefore, like female preconception care, males should consider optimizing their health months in advance.
Here are five tips to help improve sperm quality and overall health generally.
1. Protect sperm from damage
Sperm are vulnerable to damage from illness, toxins and nutritional deficiencies. Smoking, recreational drugs, and certain medications are all ways to potentially damage sperm and influence male infertility. Examples of medications include SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), beta-blockers, opiates and supplemental testosterone.
2. Increase antioxidants
It is estimated that 30-80% of poor sperm quality is due to oxidative damage to DNA from free radicals. Anti-oxidant protect our cells from these free radicals and are important factors for improving sperm count and motility. Some examples include: CoQ10, zinc, vitamin C, methylated or activated B vitamins, and L-acetyl Carnitine. However, nothing beats a healthy, whole foods diet full of colorful vegetables which is often missing in the meat and potatoe concentrated diet many men consume.
3. Maintain a healthy weight
There are so many benefits to losing those extra pounds but this is especially true while trying to conceive. We know that men who are obese have decreased sperm count and that sperm motility is affected. Fat cells produce estrogen which leads to changes in testosterone which means that when body fat percentage is high there will be more hormonal imbalances. There is also the risk of running a higher than normal body temperature if you're overweight and sperm cells are very sensitive to temperature changes. Read this post for more on how to maintain a desired weight.
4. Appropriate exercise
Daily exercise is something all men should strive for to reduce stress levels and enjoy the long term health benefits generally. A big question I get is if the type and intensity of the activity affects male fertility. There is little data on this subject, however, some studies suggest that more intense training schedules seen with marathon and tri-athletes may influence sperm quality. One study found a correlation with bike riding and low sperm count and poor motility. This occurred when men biked for more than five hours in a week suggesting that the type of exercise does impact fertility (note 12).
5. Assess hormone levels.
Yes men have hormones too! Testosterone is the most commonly known male hormone and as a man ages, levels decline. Between the ages of 30 and 50, sperm and semen volume drops 20% most likely from declining testosterone levels. Another hormone that can affect sperm quality is prolactin, and just like in women, if prolactin levels are elevated sperm quality will go down.
Improving your fertility
While it is not always possible for couples to plan when they start a family, optimizing your health prior to getting pregnant can lead to many health benefits not just to your future baby but to you as mom and dad. Preparing your body increases the chance of a healthy conception, pregnancy, baby and postpartum period. It is ideal to start optimizing your health three to four months prior to planned conception. This is because it can take 90-115 days for sperm to generate and approximately 100 days for an egg to mature. The goal is to protect the genetic material and create a healthy environment for the growing baby.
Here are three important factors to consider for optimizing fertility and general health.
There are many ways to detox our bodies. Cutting out sugar, caffeine, and alcohol while increasing water, vegetables and antioxidants is a great place to start. As discussed in this post, a main cause of morning sickness has to do with your liver’s ability to process the rise in hormone levels. There are many supportive products on the market that encourage liver and kidney function but it is always best to speak with a healthcare professional to make sure it is right for you. If there is any chance you could be pregnant then stop all detox products unless guided by your healthcare provider.
For tips to help reduce sugar in your diet check out this post. Read this post for ideas on how to start eating healthier and avoid traps of unhealthy eating. Tips for dealing with picky eaters can be found here, even if one of them is you!
2. Balance your hormones
When planning to conceive, many women start to track their cycles a little closer to determine when they are ovulating during the month. Noting when ovulation occurs and other symptoms throughout the month can provide insight on how balanced your sex hormones are and where areas of support may be needed. The majority of women do not perfectly ovulate on day 14 which is why it's so important to track. There are many signs your body gives to suggest ovulation has occurred including increased cervical mucus, a change in basal body temperature, abdominal pain (also known as mittleschmerz) and a positive signal on an ovulation strip. If you notice less than 10-12 days between ovulation and your next period, you may have what is called Luteal Phase Defect. If you have longer cycles, it may be more difficult to know when ovulation has occurred.
Timing for when to stop birth control is another consideration when deciding to get pregnant. As discussed above, it can take a few cycles for your body to normalize and in some cases, even up to a year start to ovulating again.
Find out how to balance blood sugar levels and brighten your mood naturally here.
3. Focus on nutrition
There isn’t one diet that fits all. However, most people do well with a vegetable and protein rich diet. In a perfect world we would get all of our nutrients from our food, unfortunately our soil does not have the mineral and vitamin content it did 50 years ago and supplementation may be necessary for most people. Folic acid is one such nutrient and is also important for preventing neurological issues in children. However, most people do not realize it is ideal to start supplementing with a minimum 400mcg of the active form folate (5MTHF) three to four months BEFORE you get pregnant. Choosing a good quality prenatal should provide a base line for obtaining the necessary micronutrients. Consuming good quality fish 1-2 times per week is also a healthy addition to a balanced diet and has been shown to decrease your future child’s risk of asthma and eczema (note 13). If you do not enjoy fish, I often recommend 1-3 grams of fish oil from a reputable company.
We know through animal studies when a mother eats a high sugar junk food diet during pregnancy, her offspring will be more risk of developing cardiovascular disease and obesity later in life (note 14). Sugar also decreases your immune system, increases inflammation, and can lead to hormonal imbalances. Read this post for tips to reduce sugar in your diet and this post for managing alcohol consumption.
Starting a healthy diet and lifestyle prior to conception will not only improve the way you think and feel but will increase your chances of getting pregnant and optimizing the health of your future child.
Tracking your fertility
Tracking when ovulation occurs and other symptoms throughout the month can provide insight on how balanced your sex hormones are and where areas of support may be needed. There are many signs your body gives to suggest ovulation has occurred including increased cervical mucus, a change in basal body temperature, abdominal pain (also known as mittleschmerz) and a positive signal on an ovulation strip.
- Your menstrual cycle (when you ovulate)
Most women ovulate in the middle of their cycle, about two weeks after the first day of your last period. For example, if your cycle is 28 days this will be around fourteenth day after the first day of your last period. However, you may ovulate earlier or later depending on the length of your cycle (somewhere between days 10 and 17). Since the majority of women do not perfectly ovulate on day 14, it's important to track! If you notice less than 10-12 days between ovulation and your next period, you may have what is called Luteal Phase Defect. If you have longer cycles, it may be more difficult to know when ovulation has occurred.
- Your eggs
Eggs are only good for 12-24 hours once released but sperm can live in fallopian tubes or uterus for five to seven days until a fertilized egg is available (note 15).
- Cervical mucus (quality and quantity)
On your most fertile days, your cervical mucus will be wet, stretchy and similar to the consistency and color of an egg white. In contrast, right after your period you may find that there is little or no mucus at all. Just prior to ovulation, the mucus will be thick, pasty and whitish in colour (note 16).
- Cervix (position and feel)
On your most fertile days, your cervix dips and will feel “soft and mushy (like your lips)”. Otherwise, your cervix will feel “firm (like the tip of your nose)” and closed, high up in the vagina (note 17).
- Basal body temperature
Your basal body temperature is the temperature of your body when you first wake up in the morning before you get out of bed. The pre-ovulatory basal body temperature range is between 97.0°F and 97.5°F. On a woman’s most fertile days each month, the basal body temperature should increase to a range of approximately 97.6°F to 97.8°F. Note that if you plan to keep track of your basal body temperature, try to complete the chart first thing when you get up in the morning (note 18).
This user friendly fertility chart can help you determine when you are most fertile during your cycle. If you prefer an electronic or fancier fertility gage, there are a number of ovulation predictor kits available on the market, as well as fertility tracking apps and highly technical online ovulation calendars.
1. Yoon Cannon. What They Don’t Teach You in Harvard Business School About Goal Setting, July 19, 2013. Paramount: http://paramountbusinesscoach.com/blog/harvard-goal-setting/ [Accessed April 2014].
2. Tamsin McMahon. Million-dollar babies, September 30, 2013. Maclean’s: http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/million-dollar-babies/ [Accessed April 2014].
3. Deborah Pike Olsen. The real cost of raising a baby. BabyCenter, L.L.C.:
[Accessed April 2014].
4. Ibid (Deborah Pike Olsen. The real cost of raising a baby).
First-Year Baby Costs Calculator. Babycenter, L.L.C.: http://www.babycenter.com/baby-cost-calculator [Accessed April 2014].
Top baby costs and how to save. Babycenter, L.L.C.: http://www.babycenter.ca/a1027427/top-baby-costs-and-how-to-save [Accessed April 2014].
5. The Benefits of Physical Activity. Harvard School of Public Health: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/staying-active-full-story/#the-cost-of-inactivity [Accessed April 2014].
6. Sarah McCraw. 10 Secrets to an Easier Labor. Parents Magazine: http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/giving-birth/labor-and-delivery/10-secrets-to-an-easier-labor/ [Accessed April 2014].
7. Faryal Luhar, ND. What About His Fertility? Causes, diagnoses, and natural remedies, April 2014. Alive: http://www.alive.com/articles/view/24044/what_about_his_fertility [Accessed May 2014].
8. Ibid (Faryal Luhar, ND. What About His Fertility?).
9. C. Gnoth, D. Godehardt, E. Godehardt, P. Frank‐Herrmann and G. Freundl. Time to pregnancy: results of the German prospective study and impact on the management of infertility, May 23, 2003. Oxford Journals: Journal of Human Reproduction: http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/content/18/9/1959.full [Accessed May 2014].
10. Ibid (C. Gnoth, etc al. Time to pregnancy).
11. Government of Canada, 2013. Fertility. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/fertility/fertility.html.
12. Wise. L., et al., 2011. Physical activity and semen quality among men attending an infertility clinic: Fertility and Sterility, 95(3):1025-1030. htttp://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S001502821002776713. Romieu, et al., Maternal fish intake during pregnancy and atopy and asthma in infancy, 2007: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17430348.
14. Bayol, et al., Offspring from mothers fed a ‘junk food’ diet in pregnancy and lactation exhibit exacerbated adiposity that is more pronounced in females, 2008: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2538787/
15. Ann Douglas. The Mother of All Pregnancy Books: An All Canadian Guide to Conception, Birth & Everything in Between. (Macmillan Canada, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.: 2000), pp. 85-86.
16. Ibid (Ann Douglas. The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, pp. 86-87).
17. Ibid (Ann Douglas. The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, p. 87).
18. Ibid (Ann Douglas. The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, pp. 87-88).
19. Ibid (Faryal Luhar, ND. What About His Fertility?).