Making Changes in Your Life
Childbirth Connection

How can I develop new, healthy lifestyle habits before I get pregnant?

It can take time to establish new healthy behavior patterns and break harmful habits, especially those you have been repeating for years. Here are some tips to make these changes and stay sane!

  • Don’t try to change everything at once.

    An ambitious plan to quit smoking and drinking, start eating better and start exercising all at the same time could lead you to become discouraged and give up. Start with changing one habit that will give you the most confidence to go on.

  • Start with something do-able.

    Pick one thing you want to change and believe you can change. Make a promise to yourself to achieve a particular goal by a particular time. Break it down from a large behavior (such as quitting smoking) into smaller ones (not buying cigarettes, smoking fewer each day, eliminating the after dinner cigarette, etc.). Your track record of initial small successes will provide the momentum you need for the really big challenges ahead. Imagine the “new you.” Confront any fears of what life will be like without the harmful behavior until those fears begin to disappear.

  • Get reinforcement and encouragement.

    Organize ways to gather support from friends, colleagues and relatives until your own pride in your accomplishment is enough to keep you going. Find role models whose success inspires you. When one new healthy routine is well-established, start on the next one.

  • Be specific.

    Instead of saying you’ll exercise more, arrange to walk a mile every other day with a friend. Writing down your goals can help, too. Read them whenever you feel you might slip. Put a note to remind yourself where you’ll see it.

  • Remove temptation.

    Rearrange your surroundings to support your new behavior. If you are trying to quit drinking in preparation for getting pregnant, don’t keep wine in the house. Ask your spouse or partner to support you by joining you in the new behavior.

  • Make substitutions.

    Eat fresh fruit rather than cake, but don’t deny yourself dessert altogether. Sometimes habits are attached to other activities, like snacking while watching television. You’re more likely to cheat when you feel deprived, so instead of mindlessly eating high-fat, sugary foods, eat healthier snacks.

  • Reward yourself.

    Acknowledge small victories by having lunch with friends, taking a relaxing bath, getting a new haircut or buying music or a book. You’ll only need to do this for a short time. It’s amazing, but pretty soon, just the fact that you’re still doing the new behavior or that you haven’t done the old behavior for a long time will be a sufficient reward.

  • Don’t make exceptions in the first month.

    Studies have shown it takes 30 days to establish a new behavior. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that just one cigarette, one extra cookie or one skipped exercise session won’t hurt. “Just one” is like “just dropping” a ball of string you are trying to wind: It unravels and runs out of control. Let yourself and your body develop new behavior rhythms.

  • Accept the loss and grieve.

    Behavior change can be uncomfortable; in fact, sometimes it can actually hurt. The fact is, giving up an established behavior is a loss and it’s natural to grieve. But grieving does not have to mean going back to the old behavior. Talk about the change to a health professional, a friend, a colleague or a family member. Then focus on the benefits you want that led you to make this change. Hang on tight – you’ll make it!

  • Join a support group.

    People who share your concerns can help you reach your goals. There are groups for just about every behavior change. Click here for some suggestions.

  • Remember why you are doing this hard work.

    Sometimes it’s easier to make changes for someone you love than for yourself; remember that you are making these changes for your future baby and growing family. Don’t indulge in any habits you wouldn’t want your child to have.

Many women are highly motivated to live a healthier life when planning for pregnancy and during pregnancy. This extra motivation can be a gift that puts you on a healthier lifelong pathway. Being healthy enhances your ability to meet the opportunities and challenges along the way.