What To Consider

What does it take to prepare yourself to be a parent? You might not realize it but there are emotional, physical and financial things to consider before you get pregnant. We share some tips on how to prepare yourself for one of the biggest -- and best -- changes of your life.

Couple discussing having a baby

Ready, set, baby!

When planning to have a baby sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement of finally having a baby that we forget about the things we need to have in place so we are ready when our precious little one arrives.

Ann Douglas, co-author of Family Finance: The Essential Guide for Parents and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Having a Baby says it's important to take some time to think about how having a baby is going to effect your family's bottom line.

"Will you be taking some time off work, either temporarily or permanently? If so, will you be able to reduce your expenses at the same time in order to balance your family's budget?" she says. "If you're planning to return to work shortly after your baby is born, you'll need to factor in the costs of childcare and other work-related expenses in order to determine whether you're further ahead to have both partners working outside the home, or whether it would make greater financial sense to have one parent stay at home with the new baby."

She says if one parent is considering taking an extended period away from the workforce, he or she might want to consider the hidden costs of taking a career hiatus.

"You may need some retraining in order to re-enter the workforce in a few years' time, and, in some cases, you may have to consider an entirely new career," she says.

Heather Freitag of Las Vegas, Nevada is pregnant with her third child. Freitag, a psychologist who is married to a doctor, says considering finances has always been important to them when deciding to have children.

"It is personally very important to me that I am raising my children, and though I enjoy working part time, as I do currently, I absolutely love being at home with my children," she says. "So, when considering whether or not we should get pregnant we always make sure that my NOT working is an option so that I can be at home as much as I feel I need to be."

Douglas says it is important for couples to have a post-baby financial plan in place before they have the baby.

"A lot of couples make the mistake of continuing to spend at pre-baby levels even though their income has taken a significant hit -- either temporarily, while one partner is on maternity leave, or permanently if one partner decides to leave the paid labor force for now," she says. "This can result in ever-increasing credit card balances that can be difficult to pay off. That's why it's important to have a financial plan in place before you have a baby, so that you really understand upfront how much you can -- and can't -- afford to spend."

Cynthia Maes, of Whittier, California, pregnant with her fourth child, says she and her husband, a teacher and coach, made sure they had their finances in order when they decided to have another child because they feel it gives them more time and less distractions to focus on the new baby.

"We wouldn't have to work too much overtime, and we could afford what we needed to have," says Maes, who runs a daycare from her home, but is currently thinking of switching careers. "So we waited until we were fairly job secure and had a house to raise children in."

Douglas recommends couples start building their nest egg as soon as they make a decision to have a child. "That way, you'll have some money socked away for baby gear by the time you're in the market for a crib, stroller, car seat, and so on," she says. She also suggests that couples pay off any personal debt they have accumulated over the years -- student loans, car loans and so on.

"The less debt you're carrying, the less stressed you'll feel during the financial transition to parenthood," Douglas says.

So what does it actually cost to raise a child today, anyway? Douglas says a middle-income family can expect to spend nearly $150,000 to raise a child from birth to age 18. For higher-income families, the total is closer to $220,000.

Preparing your head and heart

Now that we have taken a look at finances, couples may want to consider their physical and emotional readiness.

Deborah Issokson, a licensed psychologist who provides reproductive health and healing counseling services in Watertown, Massachusetts, says parents-to-be can emotionally prepare themselves for parenthood in several ways.

"It is the emotional preparations that are (most) crucial to healthy family development and often it is these preparations that are ignored by expectant parents," she says.

Denise Almazan, a new mom, says she thought a lot about if she was ready to have a baby on many different levels. "I had so many concerns," says Almazan, of Whittier, California. "I wondered if I could handle the pain of labor. I wondered if I was emotionally mature to raise a child, and questioned my capacity for unconditional love. I thought I may be too selfish to be a mother, and wondered if I would be able to put the needs of my child before my own."

Sacramento, California first-time mom Lauren Keene says she and her husband, Mike, focused on the emotional aspects of having a baby. "Physically, we were both in good health," says Keene. "Though with my husband Mike being older, having kids sooner was certainly better than later, and we knew there was no point in trying to reach a certain financial goal because we felt you can always find a way to accommodate a baby. Emotionally, we knew we loved each other very much and wanted to share that love with children."

Issokson says expectant parents also need to prepare themselves to be emotionally present and available to a new baby all the time, especially in the beginning, and learn to tolerate the demands of a baby, the feelings of stress, frustration, incompetence, vulnerability, responsibility and selflessness that a new baby evokes from an adult. "I am also talking about the readiness of the couple, if the mother is partnered, to endure some stress on the relationship, some interruption in intimacy, spontaneity and availability for each other," she says. Issokson recommends couples work out any unresolved issues in the relationship, before they have a baby, and participate in counseling, if necessary.

"This is the time to improve communication and maintain openness with each other," she says. "I suggest couples talk with each other about fantasies, hopes and expectations they have of each other as parents and as a family. While many couples have been together a long time, they do not know each other as parents yet and will need to get to know one another in a new way. This can be quite shocking and disappointing as well as exciting and satisfying. I suggest that partners spend time together and take stock of their relationship and what they have built together that will form the foundation for their children."

She uses a garden as a metaphor: "I say that the relationship between the adults is the garden in which the children will grow. If the garden is not tended to, then the flowers will not grow very well," she says. "I encourage parents to think creatively about how to maintain intimacy and connection with the arrival of a baby which can feel like a third wheel. Babies often come between parents. Babies bring turbulence to a marriage or a relationship and contrary to myth, do not necessarily make a relationship stronger or the people closer."

Issokson said in her dealings with her parents, many of them wish they had been better prepared for feeling incompetent and overwhelmed. "They often imagine they will be madly in love with their new babies and will sit around staring longingly into each other's eyes," she says. "They are not prepared for what sleep deprivation really feels like or how it affects relationships. They are not prepared for the feelings of loss and grief as they focus on the loss of spontaneity in their lives, the loss of intimate time with a partner, the changes in friendships. They are not prepared for the depression and anxiety that so often accompanies the arrival of a new baby. Minimally, 10 to 20 percent of new moms will experience a level of depression or anxiety that will feel debilitating."

Ricka Kohnstamm, mother of three, agrees having a baby is hard work. "I'm really concerned about the lack of 'real' information about how stressful it is to add a baby to your family," says Kohnstamm, of St. Paul, Minnesota. "It can take a serious toll on your relationship with your partner, and it's exhausting. Of course, you couldn't pay me enough money to ever have done it differently."

Sounds a little scary perhaps, but there are tools to help.

And while books are helpful, Issokson says, staying connected with each other as partners is invaluable. She recommends couples talk with other new families and participate in support groups for new moms and dads before the baby is born.

"It is important to remember that first time parents often have selective hearing and seeing because they need to hold onto the fantasy that this will all be manageable," she says. She recommends two books for expectant parents -- Laughter and Tears: The Emotional Life of New Mothers by Elisabeth Bing and Libby Colman, which she says describes the normal ups and downs of the postpartum period without pathologizing, and Becoming Parents: How to Strengthen Your Marriage as Your Family Grows by Pamela Jordan, Scott Stanley and Howard Markman. She says Becoming Parents is about marital health as a family grows and gives suggestions and examples for keeping communication clear "in the midst of the chaos that comes with a baby."

Preparing your body

Couples should also consider their physical health before conceiving, says Tori Kropp, a registered nurse who practices perinatal nursing at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and who is founder of PillowTalk: Modern Childbirth Education, a for-profit organization that offers prenatal and postnatal education and emotional support for parents.

"The primary physical responsibility is with the mother," Kropp says. "She should eat nutritiously and begin taking prenatal vitamins several months before becoming pregnant, if possible. If she feels she should lose weight, prior to pregnancy is best. And it's always good to have a nice, sensible exercise routine."

She says the father should cut down on drinking alcohol and discontinue any drug use. "Some studies show drug and alcohol use can affect sperm production," Kropp says.

The pursuit of perfection

If you're waiting for the perfect time, the perfect home, the perfect job, the perfect financial situation before having a baby, you might want to rethink your strategy. Life is rarely perfect -- and that's what keeps it interesting! And you don't need everything to be absolutely ideal in order to produce a perfect baby.

As is the case with so much of parenting, you need to let your heart - not your head - be your guide. Listen to your intuition. If you're not ready, you will know. And if you are ready to try for a baby, you will know that too.

More conception tips

The TTC dictionary: Conception and fertility terms & definitions
Your pre-conception checklist
Conception countdown: Your preconception health questions answered


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