Planning for a baby can be exciting — but also, at times, overwhelming.
With more resources about parenting and pregnancy available than ever before, it’s easy to get lost in a mountain of information about what happens after you learn you’re expecting, from signing up for birthing classes to choosing colors for the nursery to browsing baby-name books.
But there are a few things you can take care of before you even get pregnant. Here are a few questions that might pop up as you start planning or thinking about having a baby.
In an ideal situation, yes — your doctor. Dr. Donnica Moore, a gynecologist and women’s health expert, recommends preconception counseling, but don’t worry: It’s not nearly as daunting as it sounds.
“All that is is a visit to your gynecologist before you stop using contraception to say, 'OK, my friend or partner or husband and I are planning to have a baby,'" Moore told TODAY. Are there any health issues I need to change or things I need to do before I get pregnant?’”
Typically, you’ll be told to start taking prenatal vitamins that contain at least 400 micrograms of folic acid, to get a flu shot and possibly other vaccines and to stop unhealthy behaviors. (The big one is smoking!)
The answer depends on whether your current gynecologist practices obstetrics. What’s the difference? Gynecology deals with women’s general reproductive health, while obstetrics is specific to pregnancy and childbirth.
While OB-GYNs are trained in both fields, many eventually drop the field of obstetrics and only practice gynecology, explained Moore, who hosts a podcast about women’s health issues.
“Women may not know that, because if you were never interested in being pregnant before that, it may never have come up (with your doctor),” she said.
If that’s the case, your gynecologist will likely have obstetricians he or she can refer you to.
If you do need to find a doctor, there are many factors to consider. Start with your health insurance: Which doctors are covered? Is there a hospital or birthing center you had your heart set on?
“Sometimes you want a doctor who has admitting privileges to the hospital you want to use,” Moore said.
Or, maybe you want a midwife — a health care professional who provides services for women, including labor and delivery care. If you’re over the age of 35 or have other medical concerns, you might want to consider an obstetrician who specifically deals with high-risk pregnancies.
Whether you’re looking for a doctor or keeping your current one, it’s good to ask this early on.
“Practices are very different nowadays,” Dr. Shannon Clark, an associate professor of Maternal Fetal Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, told TODAY. “A lot of times a group of OB-GYNs works together. The doctor you see through your prenatal care may not be the doctor who delivers you. So that’s something you want to ask up front: How does your practice work?”
She suggests women meet all of the doctors who could potentially deliver her baby, so there’s no surprise when the time comes.
“Being in labor is stressful enough,” she said.
Got a positive pregnancy test at home? Unless you have a preexisting medical condition, there’s no need to rush to the doctor. Your first prenatal appointment should happen at between six and eight weeks.
“That is when, assuming the doctor will do an ultrasound, you’ll be able to see the fetal pole and the heartbeat,” Clark said. “So many women, as soon as they get that positive pregnancy test, they come in right away. They’re usually four or five weeks, and we can’t see anything, and then they get stressed. And we shouldn’t be seeing anything because it’s too early, but it’s hard to explain that.”
Still, many women choose to go to the doctor right away for a blood test, which can’t hurt. If you’re concerned, ask your doctor what you should do when the time comes.
“Don’t wait until you’re pregnant to find out,” Clark said. “Start doing your research.”
This is important when it comes to finding a doctor, but also when it comes to tests, procedures and services. Is there something you know you would want? Find out if it’s covered, and if not, plan accordingly.
“We always want women to think about their age when it comes to fertility,” Dr. Desiree McCarthy-Keith, an OB-GYN and fertility specialist for Shady Grove Fertility, told TODAY. “For men, if the testicles are functioning properly, they will produce brand-new sperm every 72 days, usually into their 50s, 60s and 70s sometimes. But for ladies, we’re born with all the eggs we’ll ever have. From birth on, egg count starts to decline. Once we get into the 30s, mid-30s, that process really accelerates.”
While age is the biggest factor, there are other ways you can boost your fertility: Eat healthy, exercise, don’t smoke and practice safe sex. (That goes for men, too!)
Concerned about your fertility? OB-GYNs can perform tests to see if you might have problems conceiving, including a blood test to measure hormone levels, or a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), which looks at the anatomy of the uterus and to see if the fallopian tubes are open. If you’re having trouble getting pregnant or concerned about your age, you can also visit a fertility specialist.
“A lot of people think coming to a fertility office means you’re committed to big, invasive and expensive treatment, and that’s not always the case,” McCarthy-Keith said.