So you've decided you're ready to make the big sacrifices, embrace the changes and care for a tiny human for the rest of your existence. That's great!
But before you dive into baby-making pelvis-first, let's talk strategy. There are some boxes to check before you put a bun in the oven.
Here are six things to do before you procreate:
1. Have the talk.
Before you pull the goalie, make sure you and your partner are on the same page.
It’s not fair to your unborn child to bring him or her into a world where you have nothing figured out. I’m all for living in the moment and free spirits, but after the baby is born isn’t the time to pull the “let’s figure it out as we go” card.
Will you be raising your baby with particular religious beliefs? After the baby comes, will one of you become a stay-at-home parent?
What about your living situation? Are you in a safe neighborhood with good schools? If you have a boy, will you have him circumcised?
Don’t stress if you can’t agree on names just yet, but consider hitting the pause button if you can’t come to agreements regarding things like whether or not to vaccinate, and how much you’re willing to compromise your professional career.
2. Get healthy.
Time to schedule all of those doctor’s visits you’ve been putting off. Meet with your primary care physician (PCP) for an annual physical (if you haven’t already).
Touch base about any chronic conditions you’re managing, and ask how a pregnancy might impact them. If you’re currently on some method of birth control, this would be the time to talk about cycling off or having it removed.
Also visit the dentist. Pregnancy causes hormonal changes that can increase your risk of gum disease . Plus, you should really avoid those full-mouth x-rays in the first trimester anyway. Get it all out of the way (pre-conception) by scheduling a cleaning, as well as any outstanding dental work you might need.
Besides meeting with your doctors, you also need to make some lifestyle changes that reflect your desire to become pregnant.
This means skipping the all-night bar hops, limiting your caffeine intake and taking prenatal vitamins. The best advice I ever got on this front was to treat your body as if you were already pregnant.
It will make the transition to pregnancy easier and protect the baby in those early weeks, when you may not even know you're preggo yet.
3. Find an OB.
If you’re not in love with your OB/GYN (presumably the one you've been seeing for your annual pelvic exam), now is the time to make a change. Often, your PCP can provide recommendations based on the criteria you specify.
My advice: Find a doctor who fits your style.
If you like to chat, find a good listener. If you’re considering a natural approach to childbirth, find one that favors limited medical intervention. If you’re looking to deliver in a specific hospital system, ask upfront where he or she has admitting privileges.
Go with your gut. You need to be able to trust your OB, especially in an emergency situation where he or she might have to make complicated medical decisions on your behalf. If your gut is steering you in a particular direction, follow it.
Once you find an OB, get your annual exam out of the way (if you’re due). At this appointment, you can discuss your desire to get pregnant and he or she will answer any questions you may have about conception, labor and delivery.
This is also an ideal time to talk genetic conditions. Genetic testing has come a long way, even in the last five years. A simple blood test (often done in the office itself) can tell you if you’re a carrier of specific genetic diseases. Then, your OB will be able to talk you through what this means for both you and your future baby.
4. Look into your insurance coverage.
Two days after I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I called the number on the back of my medical insurance card. The moment I was connected to a human being, I asked, “What is it going to cost me to have a baby?”
The sweet lady on the other end of the phone walked me through a few different scenarios. For every variable that changed, I simply asked, “What does that cost me?”
Then, I called my husband’s medical insurance provider, because we knew we’d be adding our new baby to his plan, not mine. I inquired about the process of adding a dependent and again, had them outline what we should expect to pay for my baby’s hospital stay.
With my second pregnancy, my OB's office did an insurance audit on my behalf, and gave me an itemized cost estimate at my first prenatal appointment.
Every insurance plan is different, so do your research. With my first pregnancy, I had a portion of my deductible due when I checked into the hospital: Good to know!
I then received three separate bills thereafter: one from the hospital, one from my anesthesiologist (for my epidural) and one from my OB’s office. With baby two, I just got one bill for everything.
Knowing what you'll owe (and how/when you'll owe it) lets you plan accordingly.
5. Investigate your company’s maternity leave policy.
Though there are laws in place to protect pregnant moms in the workplace, you might be surprised to learn they don’t always apply to you.
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a job protection measure through the Department of Labor, entitling workers in the United States to 12 weeks unpaid leave during a 12-month period for personal or family medical reasons. You can read more about it here.
Unfortunately, not all companies are bound by FMLA. If you happen to work for a small organization of less than 50 people, for example, you aren’t protected by this law.
Did you catch that I wrote unpaid leave up there? Your employer is not obligated to compensate you during your time away from the office. In fact, most don’t.
A standard maternity leave is six weeks for a vaginal delivery and eight weeks for a cesarean section. Thanks to FMLA, though, most women are able to take a full 12 weeks away from work to better focus on postpartum recovery, breastfeeding and bonding with their new baby.
Many companies will mandate that you use your vacation, sick and personal time while out on maternity leave. Once you’ve burned through that, you can claim Short Term Disability (STD) (if you’re lucky enough to have this through your employer’s benefits package).
STD is meant to cover your salary (or a portion of it) while you are unable to work for a short list of reasons, childbirth being one of them. Typically, you can expect STD plans to pay out for six weeks.
Not sure if you have STD coverage? Review your benefits package or offer letter.
Let’s do some math.
Most people have access to two weeks of paid vacation, and perhaps another week of paid sick time. Add it to the six-week STD payout, and you’re looking at compensation for nine of your 12 weeks of maternity leave (assuming you took ZERO vacation or sick days in the year before the baby was born).
Mind you, I am speaking in general about the average maternity leave situation for salaried employees with benefits. There are about a dozen variables at play here, which is why I’m telling you to do your research.
Figure out what policies your company has in place. It’s likely there's some form of written protocol.
If your company doesn't, consider talking with a colleague you trust who might know better (added bonus if she's taken a maternity leave while employed there).
I don’t recommend broadcasting your desire to learn more about maternity leave policies. Though it’s unfair and illegal to discriminate against pregnant women (or those considering becoming pregnant), that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
6. Review your finances.
Only you and your partner know if you can afford a baby.
How you live, where you live and what existing financial commitments you have impact how affordable a baby can be. It will be different for everyone.
Experts say you should plan to inflate your monthly budget by about $500 for baby-related expenses. I’d say that’s about right, if your baby is formula fed and isn’t going to daycare full-time.
Before getting pregnant, consider adjusting your budget to make room for your insurance deductible, as well as any extra cash you’ll need to cover the pay gaps you’ll experience while out on maternity leave.
Fortunately, babies bake for nine months, so you have plenty of time to save.
As you can see, there's some legwork to be done before you jump between the sheets. Indeed, this isn't the romantic or sexy part of getting pregnant, but it's definitely important.
Use these points as a guide to get better prepared, and definitely reach out to those close to you who have walked this path before. There is no substitute for first-hand advice from someone you trust.