Some of us dream for months (and sometimes years) for that telltale plus sign. For others, it’s a complete surprise. Either way, you’re definitely not alone if you find yourself wondering, “I got a positive pregnancy test—now what?” Finding out you’re pregnant is a life-changing moment that comes with its fair share of surging emotions: excitement, joy, relief, panic and maybe an extra dose of confusion over what to do next. But before you start deciding between an epidural or a natural birth, pause for a second. You’ve got 40 weeks to find all the answers, so take it one trimester at a time. The best way to make sense of a positive pregnancy test is with, well, baby steps. “You don’t have to figure it all out, the second you’re pregnant,” says Rebekah Wheeler, CNM, MPH in Napa, California. “Pregnancy is a process, and asking yourself if you’ll be a good mother, learning to trust your instincts, is all part of it.” So what are the important steps to take—and when? From confirming the pregnancy to getting your diet and finances in shape, we break down what to do when you find out you’re pregnant.
Calculate Baby’s Due Date
With so much to think about, it’s hard to know what to do after a positive pregnancy test. For starters, you’ll likely be itching to know the baby’s due date. Check out The Bump due date calculator to get an estimated date. Conception typically happens between 11 and 21 days after the first day of your last period, but since it’s tricky to know when conception actually occurs, expect this to be a bit of a guess. This will also help you gauge how far you are in your pregnancy. Farther along than you expected? Your progress is tallied from the first day of your last period, so the two or three weeks before you ovulated are still counted, even though you technically weren’t pregnant yet.
Let the News Sink in—and Celebrate!
Bask in this joyful moment—perhaps together with your partner—before well-meaning grandparents and friends accost you with a million questions: “Are you going to find out the gender? Do you want a boy or a girl? Have you picked out a name?” Finding out you’re pregnant is the first sign your life is about to change in a million ways. Add a surge of pregnancy hormones to the mix and you’ve got yourself a kaleidoscope of emotions. “You’re basically flooded with progesterone, which causes you to feel much more vulnerable,” Wheeler says. This means you might be prone to crying and panicking about the future and your career—and that’s completely normal. “Most of the time these moods will pass if you rest. Don’t take on unnecessary tasks that you can avoid,” adds Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.
Make a Doctor’s Appointment
After you see that positive pregnancy test, you’ll want to confirm it with a professional. Keep in mind that while false positives are very uncommon with pregnancy tests, there is a chance that an at-home test can pick up the pregnancy hormone, hCG, even if you’ve miscarried shortly after conception—something that doctors refer to as a chemical pregnancy. “You probably wouldn’t even know that you were pregnant, if you didn’t take the pregnancy test,” Minkin says. If you did have a chemical pregnancy, you’ll likely get your period a little late.
Your first prenatal visit usually happens around your eighth week of pregnancy. But even though you may not see the doctor for a few weeks yet, calling to schedule an appointment is definitely one of the first steps to take after finding out you’re pregnant—depending on the practice, wait times can be long.
Decide on the type of care provider
As you prepare to make your first prenatal appointment, you can decide to seek prenatal care from either an ob-gyn or a midwife. The decision between the two really depends on what you’re hoping for during pregnancy and delivery. If you’re set on an epidural or may have a higher-risk pregnancy (perhaps because of diabetes or high blood pressure), then an ob-gyn is probably the best choice since they are equipped to offer medication and perform surgery. On the other hand, those hoping for a low-intervention vaginal delivery (maybe even at home) can look for a midwife. Often times, nurse midwives can request the same labs and ultrasounds as an ob-gyn. But guess what: You don’t necessarily have to pick one or the other. A lot of hospital practices work with midwives who spearhead prenatal care and labor with an ob-gyn backing them up.
Find the right doctor for you
Once you decide on the type of care for you, start scouting for an awesome provider. If you already have a great ob-gyn and want to stick with her, great! If not, there are many ways to find one you’ll feel comfortable with. “Yelp.com is actually a pretty good way to find an OB or midwife,” says Wheeler, who suggests cross-referencing well-rated providers with those recommended in prenatal yoga classes and child birth centers. Zocdoc.com, Healthgrades.com and RateMDs.com are some other sites you can explore to find provider ratings. If you already know which hospital suits you best, try Minkin’s trick to find an ob-gyn: Call the head nurse at Labor & Delivery and ask for a recommendation—the nurses see doctors during the most stressful times and know who takes good care of their patients. And don’t worry if you don’t love the first doctor you meet with: It’s more than ok to try out different midwives and ob-gyns before you commit. “You can transfer up until the moment you’re in labor,” says Wheeler. “People feel embarrassed leaving, but you never have to tell the provider and have a confrontation. The new office will request all your medical records.” The important thing is that you find someone trustworthy who makes you feel comfortable. After your first visit, and if everything is progressing smoothly, you’ll see your doctor once a month for the first two trimesters. After 32 weeks, the visits are twice a month, then once a week after 36 weeks.
Decide Who to Tell and When
Sure, snapping a picture of your pregnancy test and sharing it on social media will do the job, but announcing that you’re expecting a baby is a bit different than Instagramming your lunch. Generally, couples wait until after 13 weeks to make the news public, since that’s when the risk of miscarriage goes down significantly. When it comes to close family and friends, you may decide it makes sense to spill the beans around six to eight weeks. As one expecting mom put it, “Even if we did lose the baby, I would need my parents and close friends for support, so I’d be telling them either way.” Plus, you might want to loop in close family and friends, not only so they can celebrate, but so they can also be understanding if you bewilderingly break down in a waterworks of emotions.
The one group of people who can wait for your announcement is employers and co-workers. “It’s no one’s business in the first trimester,” says Christine Romans, CNN’s chief business correspondent and the author Smart is the New Rich: Money Guide for Millennials. “Later, say at 20 weeks when you’re going to start showing, let your boss and human resources know. Together, you’ll want to start plotting through how long you will take off for maternity leave and how to delegate your work in your absence.” At the end of the day, it’s completely up to you and your partner when and how you want to share the happy news.
Learn What’s in Store for You and Baby
Among the things to know when expecting a baby? Understanding what’s in store for you for the next nine months. One of the coolest things after finding out you’re pregnant is tracking baby’s growth—from the size of an apple seed to a watermelon!—and the many changes in your own body via The Bump Pregnancy Week-By-Week guide (and if you haven’t already, download The Bump app.)
While every woman’s body reacts differently, you’re bound to have at least a few of the standard early pregnancy symptoms: nausea, cramping and spotting, sore breasts, acne, mood swings, frequent urination, headaches, and food cravings and/or aversions. You’ll also likely experience a level of exhaustion that rivals all the all-nighters you may have pulled. “You’ll be eating for two and sleeping for two,” Minkin jokes. This please-let-me-lie-down kind of tiredness, courtesy of an uptick in progesterone, peaks between 8 to 12 weeks, and then starts to ease up.
Get into Healthy Habits
You probably already know that smoking and drinking are no-nos during pregnancy, but there are a bunch of other ways you’ll need to get your body into tip-top shape for a healthy pregnancy. If you’re not already taking prenatal vitamins, now is the time to start—as baby develops, she’s going to need calcium to build bones and iron to make red blood cells, plus folic acid to prevent neural tube defects and loads of other important nutrients. And she gets all this from what you’ve got stored in your body. “The kid’s going to steal from you,” Minkin says. “You want to make sure your body doesn’t get depleted.”
In terms of changing up your daily menu, a pregnancy diet isn’t all that different from a typical healthy diet—think: lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins. But there are a few foods that should be avoided: Steer clear of cold cuts, deli salads, unpasteurized cheeses and refrigerated smoked seafood, since these can house listeria, a bacteria that can cause pregnancy complications. You’ll want to avoid raw fish (sushi) and those that are high in mercury (swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel), since the heavy metal is toxic to baby’s nervous system. You should also limit your caffeine intake to no more than 200 mg a day.
While nut butters, salmon and green veggies are great kitchen staples for the next 40 weeks, if you’re battling with morning sickness, you may be living on a diet of applesauce and crackers at first. “Go easy on yourself,” Wheeler says. “Forget the nutrition component until you feel better.” She also recommends high-protein foods, like chicken and eggs, before bed to keep you satiated longer and minimize nausea in the morning.
After finding out you’re pregnant, you’ll also want to drink plenty of liquids. Staying hydrated allows your body to produce more blood volume, build new tissue, carry nutrients through your body and flush out your (and baby’s) waste. Tired of chugging plain water? Sparkling water, fruit-infused H20, even watermelon smoothies (just blend watermelon with a bit of frozen berries) are excellent alternatives to not-so-appetizing flat water.
Keep Up With Your (Pregnancy-Safe) Workouts
In addition to healthy pregnancy snacks, you’ll want to continue exercising. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, you should aim to gain between 25 and 35 pounds during your pregnancy if you’re of average weight. If you’re underweight or overweight, the recommended weight gain should fluctuate by about 5 to 10 pounds, respectively. Exercising throughout your pregnancy not only helps you manage a healthy pregnancy weight gain—it also prepares your body for the strain of carrying and delivering a baby and builds the stamina you’ll need after childbirth, when you’re constantly lifting and cradling your (often not-so-light) newborn.
So what workouts are pregnancy-friendly? There are plenty of ways to stay fit safely—from prenatal yoga classes to walking, swimming and more. Anja Pierre and Missy Paris, co-founders of BYOBfit, an online pre- and postnatal fitness resource, like to focus on exercises like planks and squats that utilize the core and the pelvic floor. Try moves that engage the glutes and shoulders and work on the proper alignment of the spine, which in turn preps you for carrying your growing frontal load. “You’ll rely on total body strength to perform tasks you never thought twice about, like opening a door, getting out of a cab or getting out of bed,” Pierre says. “Start working those arms if you haven’t already!”
You’ll want to avoid contact sports and activities where you’re more likely to fall, like skiing and horseback riding, and steer away from exercises in a poorly ventilated space, like hot yoga and even spinning. “The fetus is vulnerable, so you don’t want to be in a situation where you can quickly overheat,” Pierre says. “Stay hydrated and maintain your body temperature at a normal level.” She also nixes crunches, since “they’re really not as effective as people think, and they can lead to abdominal separation. “Focus on what you can do and what makes you feel good,” Paris says.
“Congratulations! You're going to have a baby! Now start saving for college,” Romans says. “I'm not kidding even a little bit. You have just 18 years to squirrel away the money for a college education (and they go by quickly!).” Sure, thinking about a 529 plan instead of muslin blankets isn’t super-exciting, but it’s the responsible thing to do—and it doesn’t mean you can’t also enjoy indulging your nesting instinct with cute crib sheets, tiny onesies and other registry goodies.
Of course, it’s not just college you’ll have to start saving for: The first few years of baby’s life can be shockingly expensive. Want to guess how much? According to a recent survey, 36 percent of people thought baby’s first year typically costs between $1,000 and $5,000. Sorry, but not even close—that survey found it’s more like $21,000, and others say it can be even more. But don’t freak out: There are plenty of ways to shop smart and save like a savvy parent-to-be.
Brush Up on Your Maternity Leave Options
What else is on the list of what to do when you find out you’re pregnant? Head to the benefits department. Once you’ve shared the news with your employer, learn about maternity leave and insurance perks. “Depending on your policies, there could be lactation consultant home visits, a free nutritionist, prenatal vitamins, even a free breast milk pump,” Romans says. At a minimum, the Family and Medical Leave Act allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave (as long as you’ve been with the company for at least a year and your employer meets certain federal requirements). Make sure to ask when and how to add baby to your health insurance, since a newborn is only eligible for enrollment within the first 30 days after birth and won’t be subject to any preexisting conditions, even if he has one.
Get Your Pregnancy Questions Answered
Pregnancy is an exciting and confusing time, and you’re going to have a ton of questions along the way. “What was that twinge?” “Will I ever stop vomiting?” “Why can’t I seem to get enough pickles in my life?” Never hesitate to reach out to your doctor with any concerns, and know that you’re not alone in this journey. If you’re yearning for some quick expert advice on what to do or simple reassurance that, yes, plenty of other women are experiencing the exact same thing, head over to The Bump Real Answers, ask whatever’s on your mind, and hear directly from prenatal experts and other moms-to-be. Because your family is expanding—and in more ways than one.
Published July 2017