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You are still tremendously impressed by your positive pregnancy test, whether you were actively trying to conceive or your news came as a bit of a surprise. What should you be doing next?

When is it time to make your first prenatal appointment, what should you know about diet and lifestyle, and how do you start looking beyond that toward your future as a mom? 

Your lifestyle and diet

If you were actively trying to conceive before you discovered that you are pregnant, you probably already took all those good steps that set your baby up with a great start. You would have stopped drinking and smoking if applicable, taken a critical look at your diet and physical activity levels, and may have made adjustments. You may have been taking folic acid supplements for months already. Women who got pregnant by surprise and found out as soon as they missed their period would not have taken all of these steps if this is you, it is not too late to make the right changes now!

Get started with folic acid tablets (400 mg daily) to help prevent birth defects in your baby, stop smoking right away if you did use tobacco, and don't drink. Even small amounts of alcohol are very harmful, especially at this early stage. When it comes to diet, there are some things pregnant women should avoid. Raw meat and fish comes to mind, as well as unpasteurized cheeses. The main thing is to apply common sense and to choose foods from all important food groups.

You will need plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to get all your vitamins and minerals. Proteins and carbohydrates are also important, and cooking from scratch is obviously going to be healthier than relying on processed foods. Prenatal exercise is another important step to take. Exercising three, four or five times a week will help you enjoy a fit and energetic pregnancy. It will also contribute to having an easier labor and birth, and a speedier postpartum recovery. Who doesn't want all those things?

Starting prenatal care

As you see in the previous section, expectant moms do most of their "prenatal care" at home by looking after their own health and avoiding things that can harm them and their babies. The type of prenatal care provided by healthcare professionals (including OBGYNs, midwives, and sometimes even family doctors) is also important, since these people have tools that you don't that screen for and perhaps diagnose problems. When should you start seeing a doctor or midwife for prenatal care?

The short answer is that this depends on where you live. You have a better chance of getting care you are satisfied with if you interview at least several different prenatal care providers depending, of course, on your type of health insurance and on the risk level of your pregnancy. When you talk to healthcare providers, it is helpful to have at least a vague idea of the type of labor and birth you prefer, too. If you want a natural, low-intervention birth, midwives are generally the logical option.

Women who prefer a more medical environment and would like an epidural, for instance, would be better off with an OBGYN. Whatever type of care you have access to, it is important that you like (or at the very least don't dislike) your prenatal care provider and that you feel he or she is open to answering all your questions. You don't want a conveyor-belt kind of experience in which your needs are not taken seriously.

Preparing for the future

Every pregnant woman's personal situation is different, so it is hard to give blanket advice on how to prepare beyond this do prepare. If you are working, you will want to look into maternity leave, and perhaps paternity leave for your partner (if you have one). You may want to quit work after you have the baby, in which case you would need to plan for that. You may want to continue working, in which case you will need to start looking into childcare arrangements.

You may want to look into getting married if you're not married right now, if for no other reason than that marriage offers practical benefits for parents. You may need to move house to accommodate a baby, or to reorganize or Renovate your current home. You may also want to look into something that is of less immediate practical value, but hugely important nonetheless: how you feel about parenting, and what is most important to you about the kind of parent you want to be to your young baby and beyond. Parenthood is a challenging, exciting, and wonderful journey. It's good that you have roughly 40 weeks to prepare. Make the most of that time, but also enjoy your pregnancy!

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