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Planning a baby?

How to prepare your life for pregnancy

Once you’ve shifted your thinking about pregnancy from ‘maybe one day’ to ‘okay, let’s go for it’, there’s a lot to consider. You need to plan for your pregnancy physically, financially and emotionally – and the sooner you start, the better.

You need to fully understand the changes that a new baby will bring to your partner relationship, your career plans, your money situation and your lifestyle. There are heaps of extra things to think about – maternity clothes, a baby shower, ultrasound appointments and all the rest. It’s an exciting time, but it will go more smoothly if you’re well organised. Here are some handy pre-pregnancy tips:

Your preconception doctor visit – what to expect

One of the first and most important steps in the journey toward motherhood is to pay a visit to your healthcare practitioner for a pre-pregnancy physical exam, including a complete medical history. This should be done a few months to a year before you start trying to conceive.

You’ll answer lots of questions about your medical history, allergies, medications (including herbal supplements), birth control, vaccinations, etc. There may be questions about whether you’ve been a victim of domestic violence or suffered mental health issues such as eating disorders or depression.

Your health as it relates to diet and nutrition, alcohol consumption, smoking habits and any drug use will also be looked at, with recommendations provided to ensure you’re giving your baby the best possible start in life. There may also be questions about your partner: for example, whether he is exposed to toxic substances in his workplace.

Nurse measuring blood pressure.

You’ll probably be advised to start taking folic acid at least a month before trying to conceive. This can substantially reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects (such as spina bifida). There may be a urine test to check for diabetes and a blood test to check for specific diseases, iron deficiency, etc. Being underweight or overweight can affect your pregnancy, so that will be checked as well.

If you or your partner have any genetic risk factors such as recurrent miscarriages or a history of genetic disease (or, if you’ll be 35 years or older at the projected time of giving birth), you may be referred to a genetic counsellor. You’ll receive a thorough physical exam and be encouraged to ask any questions or share any concerns you may have about preparing for pregnancy1.

It’s important to temper your eagerness for a baby with the practicalities of how ready you are – in all the ways that matter.

Timing is everything

When is ‘the right time’ to try and have a baby? Well, there are ovulation calculators that can help you work out the dates of maximum fertility, but well before you get to that stage it’s worth thinking about where you’re at health-wise and financially. If you and your partner are struggling to make ends meet, maybe it’s more sensible to wait a year until your money situation stabilises a bit.

Or perhaps you want to quit smoking, get fitter or make major changes to your diet and nutrition habits before you try for a bub. There may be relationship issues or employment transitions to sort out first. It’s important to temper your eagerness for a baby with the practicalities of how ready you are – in all the ways that matter.

Have you had a heart-to-heart talk with your partner about your mutual expectations and how you’ll divide up domestic duties once a baby arrives on the scene? Discuss your perceptions of your new roles and responsibilities and make sure there are no unspoken expectations that could lead to conflict later on. Babies are a lot of work, and you’re going to need all the help you can get.

Research time

Many working couples struggle to cope with the loss of income that results from the baby’s main caregiver stopping work to look after the bub. And if you both decide to keep working, you’ll be faced with the high costs of child care. Before you become pregnant, it’s not a bad idea to consult an accredited financial planner so you can get professional advice on how to manage your family finances into the future.

Government policies on family payments and assistance for new parents are frequently changing, so it’s important to have the most up-to-date information from official sources. If you’re planning on trying for a baby, the best place to find applicable government information is on the Families page (Department of Human Resources). Here you can click on additional pages such as ‘Family Payments’, ‘Having a Baby’ and ‘Child Care’ to get the information on payments and services that are most relevant to your needs.

Group of babies in daycare.

The funny thing about babies is they don’t stay babies for long. They grow up, start school, raid your fridge and eventually start asking you for the car keys. And raising youngsters in Australia isn’t cheap. Latest figures show that the cost of raising two kids for a typical middle-income family is $812,000 – from birth until they leave home2.

If you’re thinking ahead and looking into the costs of child care in this country, you may want to brace yourself. According to a 2014 report, Australian child care costs have jumped 150 per cent in the past decade – with only tobacco and electricity prices soaring at a quicker rate. For ‘long day’ child care, this can translate to as much as $170 a day per child3.

Planning ahead for the birth

In the early stages of planning for a baby, you’ll be thinking dreamy thoughts about things like which baby shops to visit, where you’ll take the little one for walks in the pram and whether Jenna is a nicer name than Sara. What you may not be thinking about are the many details (and costs) of giving birth to your little bundle of joy. Have you considered how and where you want to give birth? Your ‘model of care’ options will depend on where you live, and might include:

Public hospital, with on-duty obstetrician or midwife 

Labour and birth care in Australian public hospitals is free, as is pregnancy care if you attend the hospital’s clinic. However, costs for ultrasound procedures, pathology tests, antenatal classes and pregnancy care from your local GP will be payable out of your own pocket.

Public hospital, with a private obstetrician

If you’re eligible to attend the hospital as a public patient, costs will be incurred throughout your pregnancy and for the birth, but you won’t pay any accommodation charges.

Premature baby born at 25th week of pregnancy sleeping during the kangaroo care session in hospital. Genuine emotions, real scene. Natural light, AdobeRGB profile.

Private hospital, with a private obstetrician 

This last option can get pricey, so it’s recommended you have private health insurance if you go this route. Check with your health insurer about exactly what you’re covered for, what sort of ‘gap’ you’ll need to pay, and if there are any required waiting periods for your obstetrics or maternity care cover.

Predictions about how long you’ll be able to continue working before the birth, or when you’ll be able to return to work can prove quite inaccurate.

The ambulance situation in Australia is a bit of a mishmash, with ambulance cover being available through either a health fund or (in some states) through your state ambulance authority. Every state has its own ambulance arrangements. What’s worth remembering is that ambulance services and emergency transport costs are not covered by Medicare.

How much your hospital stay (or midwife, if you’re planning on a home birth) ends up costing will depend on all the choices you make in the planning stages. And remember that predictions you might make about how long you’ll be able to continue working before the birth, or when you’ll be able to return to work can prove quite inaccurate. Don’t count on ‘mummy income’ that you may not eventually get because of unexpected fatigue, medical complications, persistent morning sickness or other surprises that prolong your time away from employment.

If this is your first child, you won’t have had any previous experience in how parental leave works and what entitlements are involved. A quick look at the Fair Work Ombudsman website can give you all the details you need to sort out your parental leave.

Full length of couple calculating budget in living room at home

Money matters

If there was ever a perfect time to brush up on your budgeting skills, this is it. When you’re planning for a baby, you’re on the verge of transforming a couple with happy dreams into a bona fide, true blue family – with all the extra financial commitments that entails. Do you know how much the two of you are spending each month – on everything? Have you worked out areas where you might be able to make a few changes and save some money?

Baby stores are big business these days, but you don’t need to go crazy with the fanciest pram, the trendiest baby toys or a massive spare bedroom makeover. Many items (cribs, prams, high chair, etc.) can be easily obtained secondhand or from friends whose children have outgrown them. The most important thing is making sure anything you purchase for your baby (either new or used) meets Australian standards for safety.

Those cute little jars of baby food can get mighty expensive when you add them up. There are plenty of recipes online for healthy, nutritious baby food you can make yourself and store in the freezer for later use.

If you have a savings account (and you should), why not create a separate sub-account for your baby-to-be? Nobody can predict what’s going to happen during the next decade with the costs of education and other child-related expenses, but a good guess is that they won’t be cheaper than what they are now. The time to start saving for your child’s future is before they’re born. That extra money you put away may be needed sooner than you think.

Young hipster father changing nappy to his little baby daughter

Pay off your debts as quickly as you can, starting with the ones with the biggest interest payments. Try the experiment of living on just one income for a month – to see if it can actually be done before a baby arrives.

Sit down with your partner and work out your monthly budget. Start with fixed essentials like child care, transport costs, mortgage/rent, insurance, utility bills, etc. Then move on to adding up variable monthly expenses: phone bills, petrol, groceries, etc. Lastly, take a good hard look at any ‘luxury expenses’ that could be reduced or chopped out entirely: movies, gifts, sports/dance activities, dining out, party nights, etc. Be ruthless.

Bringing a new baby into the world is a joyous event. When the time finally arrives, one thing is certain: you’ll have plenty to do! There’s nothing else in life quite like looking down at a cuddly bundle of brand new human and realising “you belong to me, and I belong to you .”

Life insurance takes on even greater importance when you’re about to create a family – or are adding to your existing one. The number of people who rely on you is about to increase by one. And as your family grows, so do your financial obligations. But what if the unthinkable happens and you or your partner unexpectedly pass away, become disabled or suffer a debilitating injury or illness? What would you do if a child gets sick for a long period and one of you has to give up work (and that valuable second income) to stay home and look after them?

Life insurance can’t stop life’s nasty surprises from happening – but it’s the most prudent way to protect against the aftermath. Life Cover, Trauma Cover, Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) Cover and Children’s Insurance are all designed to keep your growing family protected.