Trying to Conceive

Getting pregnant is the fun part. But before you get busy trying to conceive, you have some work to do. A growing body of research suggests that planning and preparing for conception can help you fast-track your fertility, have a healthier and more comfortable pregnancy, and deliver a healthier bundle of joy. If you're thinking about making a baby, think about taking these preconception steps first.


Eager to get pregnant, but not sure where to begin (besides the obvious)? The latest research shows that the best place to begin pregnancy is actually before the beginning — for some couples, well before. A little preconception planning and preparation can not only help you have a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby, but it can also help get that baby on board faster by improving your fertility. That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the March of Dimes, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and others are now routinely recommending that all couples consider adding at least three months (and in some cases, up to a year) to the nine months of pregnancy. Not three extra months being pregnant (that would be asking way too much — even for the most dedicated mom-to-be), but three extra months in which you prepare to become pregnant: getting your body, your partner's body, your lifestyle, your weight, your diet, your exercise routine, your medication regimen, and more into tip-top baby-making shape before sperm meets egg. So before you take the plunge without that protection parachute, follow this plan, keeping in mind that every couple's preconception to-do list will be a little different:

Getting Ready to Conceive

  • See your doctors (and your dentist). The best prenatal care starts long before there's a baby to care for, so schedule a checkup with your doctor (to make sure you're healthy) and one with your gyn, ob-gyn, or midwife (to make sure your reproductive system is ready to roll). Your doctors will check your weight, make sure your immunizations are up-to-date, give you a blood test, discuss your family medical history, advise you how to taper off medications you're on (or switch you to more baby-safe ones), and make sure all chronic conditions are under control. Two doctor appointments down? There's still one to go. See the dentist too to make sure your teeth and gums are ready for pregnancy (gum disease is associated with pregnancy complications).
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Here's food for thought: Your fertility — like your baby — may be what you eat. Though it's possible to get pregnant no matter what you eat (and what you don't eat), a healthy preconception diet may in fact boost fertility. Eating well is definitely linked to healthier pregnancies and healthier babies, which means there's no better time than now to begin breaking bad eating habits (the breakfast skipping, the fast-food lunching) and building some good ones (switching from white to whole grain, spending more time with your hand in the fruit bowl than in the cookie jar). Have a java jones? Limit your preconception caffeine consumption to no more than 200 mg a day (that's about two shots of espresso or 12 ounces of brewed coffee). And make sure to cut down on alcohol (since heavy drinking can compromise your fertility).

  • Take a prenatal. No, you're not pregnant yet — but taking a prenatal vitamin in the months leading up to conception can help prevent serious birth defects, preterm delivery, and — as a just-for-mom bonus — morning sickness. So ask your practitioner for a recommendation and get popping now.
  • Get to your ideal weight. What can the scale tell you about your chances of getting pregnant? Actually, quite a lot. Being even moderately overweight — or significantly underweight — can weigh on fertility by throwing off the delicate balance of reproductive hormones that's needed for dependable ovulation and successful conception. Too many fat cells, and your body will make too much estrogen — too few fat cells, and your body will make too little. Either scenario: a recipe for fertility problems. For best baby-making results, work to get your BMI (body mass index) in the conception-friendly range of 18.5 to 24 before you begin trying to conceive. Ask your practitioner what your preconception goal weight should be.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking poses a whole pack of risks, not only when you're pregnant but also when you're trying to conceive. So kick butt now and stay smoke-free throughout your pregnancy and beyond.
  • Start exercising. Being fit does seem to make you more fertile. A moderate workout (about 30 minutes a day of heart-pumping exercise) can help boost your chances of getting pregnant. Just don't overdo this good thing — a too-strenuous workout (especially if it leads to a too-lean body) can prevent you from ovulating and conceiving.
  • Chill out. Extreme stress (not average, everyday stress) has been linked to trouble getting pregnant, so add a chill pill to your preconception regimen. Give that fertility-unfriendly anxiety the ax by regularly making time for relaxation (read a book, listen to music or a meditation CD, take a yoga class), avoiding overload (Do you really have to say yes to that after-hours conference call? That charity bake sale?), and finding an outlet to vent (share with your partner, and also with pals you've made on the preconception Message Boards).
  • Take a look at your birth control. If you're using a diaphragm, condom, IUD, spermicide, or other nonhormonal birth control, wait until all baby-making systems are go before you ditch the protection (otherwise, you could get pregnant before you finish prepping). If you've been using the pill, the patch, or the ring, you may want to switch over to a barrier method for a month or two first (it may take a while for regular ovulation to resume after you've quit the hormones) — ask your practitioner for advice on this. Definitely finish your pill pack to avoid breakthrough bleeding, which can only confuse matters. If you're on Depo-Provera, you'll need to do some serious advance planning, since it could take six months to a year for ovulation to resume after you stop the shots (again, use a nonhormonal method while you're waiting).

And since it takes two healthy bodies to make a healthy baby, make sure that your partner also gets with the preconception program. He too should get a checkup, get chronic health conditions under control, change up any fertility-unfriendly meds, improve his eating habits (and take a vitamin-mineral supplement), cut out smoking and cut back on alcohol (caffeine's no problem for him), get his weight where it needs to be, start exercising (or slack off a little if he's hitting the gym a little too hard — or working out in a fertility-unfriendly way, like mountain biking), and reduce stress.