Pregnancy is more than just a nine-month experience; it’s a year-long journey. The planning that is invested prior to conception is just as important to a successful pregnancy as during the term.

The first few weeks of the pregnancy are the most vital to the baby’s development. That’s why planning ahead is so important. Breaking old habits and developing new ones should all begin before conception.

First, it’s vital to stop things like smoking, drinking alcohol, and using recreational drugs. If you’re taking prescription medication, talk with your doctor to see if they could have an effect on your pregnancy, or even on your ability to become pregnant.

Avoid all hazardous chemicals and do your best to reduce stress and caffeine.

While you’re working to curb bad habits, start replacing them with good ones, like eating healthy and exercising. Good exercise options include walking, swimming, bicycling and yoga. You may also want to begin reading books on pregnancy to prepare yourself. Get lots of sleep; the recommended amount is a minimum of eight hours.

Schedule a doctor’s visit to discuss your intent to become pregnant. There are some medical conditions the doctor can check for that could have an impact on your pregnancy, including: diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia, and STDs.

Finally, start taking folic acid every day, one to three months prior to conception. A baby’s spine will fully develop in the first 28 days of pregnancy. Waiting until after you’ve learned you’re pregnant to add the recommended 400mcg of folic acid to your diet, could be too late to prevent neural tube defects like Spina bifida.

It’s always best to plan ahead, especially with a major life decision like having a baby. Also, with the high number of unplanned pregnancies every year, living healthy and taking folic acid whether your planning on getting pregnant or not, is just smart living.

The healthier you are before getting pregnant, the easier the pregnancy will be for you and your baby.