If you are new to the pregnancy game, your mind is likely being pulled in a million directions at once. You’re blissfully imagining a beautiful babe in your arms while at the same time panicking about everything from weight gain to maternity leave.
But before you start daydreaming about nursery designs or researching pain management techniques, there are some immediate lifestyle considerations that are crucial to the health of both you and your baby-in-progress. Here’s what you need to think about right away …
Give me some support
Your growing babe is going to need a lot of nutritional support to grow into a healthy, happy infant over the next nine months. Prenatal vitamins and supplements will help with much of this nourishment and are an important regimen that you should begin even before you see a positive test result.
If you haven’t started taking a folic acid supplement, do so immediately, says Karoline Puder, MD, chief of obstetric services at Harper/Hutzel Hospital in Detroit. She recommends that all women of childbearing age take folic acid daily, as it is most effective at preventing birth defects up to three months before conception. If you haven’t yet started taking folic acid, remember that it’s better to do so late than never.
Also speak with your primary care provider about which prenatal vitamin you should choose. Different women have different needs based on diet, allergies and medical history, and your doc may have special recommendations for you.
What’s up, doc?
Speaking of your health, the beginning of a pregnancy journey is the perfect time to review your health care plan and make sure you are happy with the amount of insurance coverage you’ll have over the next year as you prepare for baby.
Find out if your plan covers maternity care and childbirth, so you can ensure coverage both during your pregnancy and after baby is born, recommends Mark Colwell, consumer marketing director at GoHealth. Colwell explains that under the new health care laws, maternity and childbirth are covered in qualified health and Medicaid plans, but plans that were grandfathered in may not be required to cover you. Call your provider to find out where your plan falls. Also note which hospitals and physicians are part of your network and request a summary of benefits and coverage for your records.
If you are unhappy with your current plan, Colwell says there are a few options. You can either reapply during the national open enrollment period, which is November 15 to February 15, or you can switch plans within 60 days of baby’s birth, which is considered a major life event.
Once you have your health coverage in order, plan to see your doctor early on in your pregnancy to ensure all is well. Puder recommends scheduling your first prenatal appointment for when you’re about 8 weeks along, unless you have a preexisting medical condition and need to be seen sooner. At the checkup, you’ll want to go over your personal and family history, discuss what you should expect at subsequent visits, find out which genetic tests are recom- mended and determine which classes and resources are available to you.
“Speak with your obstetric provider regarding any medications or recreational drugs you are using,” Puder recommends. “Something that is legal or prescribed may still be harmful. That said, do not stop medications that are used for health conditions without speaking with your provider first. Not all medications have risks, and the risk of not properly treating the condition may be greater.”
The times they are a changin’
There’s no doubt about it: Your lifestyle is about to change. You might have already cut out cigarettes, but keep in mind that especially in the first few weeks, it’s smart to avoid being around other smokers and tobacco altogether, advises Puder, who explains that secondhand exposure can be harmful during early pregnancy.
It might be obvious, but it’s worth noting: Alcohol is a definite no-no over the next nine months. “No amount of alcohol can be considered safe in pregnancy, so stop drinking,” says Puder bluntly. Instead, try mixing up a juice mocktail when you need to make a toast.
And while Puder says large amounts of caffeine are off-limits, you can still enjoy one cup of joe a day. “Don’t make yourself crazy about that cup of coffee you love in the morning,” she assures.
Instead of excessively worrying about dos and don’ts at this point, Puder says it’s important to focus on the end goal when you feel overwhelmed. “Pregnancy is a journey—and not always a pleasant one. Speak with your provider about anything that is bothering you or worrying you, but remember, we can’t necessarily make you feel not pregnant when you are. Keep your destination—that is, a healthy baby and mother—in sight.”