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How to plan for an unplanned pregnancy

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There’s nothing as life changing as getting the biggest surprise of all: You’re pregnant.

First of all, don’t freak out. Stop staring at the blue plus sign and wipe the shocked look off your face. Whether you’re a first time mom or you’re adding more to your brood, you’ll get through this. Here’s how:  

Start taking folic acid

Around 49 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. each year are unplanned, according to a study in the journal Contraception and taking folic acid during pregnancy can reduce your baby’s risk for neural tube defects like spina bifida.

If you’re already taking a multivitamin, chances are you’re getting enough folic acid—at least 400 mcg is recommended—according to Dr. Kimberly Gecsi, an OB-GYN at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. However, be sure to speak with your doctor about taking a higher dose of folic acid and a prenatal vitamin, which can fill in the gaps with other important vitamins and minerals you and your baby need.

Make a doctor’s appointment

It’s important to figure out how many weeks along you are and get an accurate due date because “the recommendations are going to change depending on how far along you are,” Gecsi said. Speak with your provider about important blood tests, ultrasounds, genetic screenings and other tests you may need.

If you’re unsure of the date of your last menstrual period, or you have irregular or nonexistent periods, an ultrasound can help to pinpoint how far along you are.  You should also speak with your provider about weight gain, quitting smoking, any medications you’re taking, and chronic diseases or conditions that will need to be managed during pregnancy.

Let it sink in

You might be elated, but it’s normal to also feel shocked, scared, anxious—even angry.  “Make sure that you feel your emotions,” said Diane Lang, a psychotherapist, author and positive living expert. Take some time to deal with your feelings and accept your new reality – and don’t share your news with anyone else until you have.  

Take action

The best way to deal with the unknown is to create an action plan. Think about if you’ll return to work or go back part time, how much leave you and your spouse can take, or if you’ll need childcare. Take a look at your budget and factor in how your financial situation will change.

Also, start to build your village. Consider hiring a babysitter or maybe grandparents, as well as older children who can help out. “The more prepared you are, the better off you’ll feel when the baby is born,” Lang said.

Be positive

“Instead of thinking of it as an unplanned pregnancy or an accident, think of it as a gift,” Lang suggested. Even if you’re not happy about the pregnancy, or you’re worried about how your life is going to change, chances are you’ll eventually feel grateful after the baby is born. “Be open to what’s coming, because it is the unexpected – but the unexpected a lot of times brings a lot of greatness with it,” she said.  

Take it in stride

Katelyn McCarthy of Brooke Park, Ohio was surprised to find out she was eight weeks pregnant in 2011 after seeing her doctor for what she thought were kidney stones. Married for just a few months, she and her husband weren’t planning for children so soon. Although she was taking birth control pills, she admits she would miss an occasional day or two.

Instead of stressing out about it, she realized that unplanned or planned, you’re never really ready.  “I didn’t jump in and read right away and think about what I missed not preparing, because there was nothing I could do at that point,” she said. “I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason.”

Julie Revelant is a freelance writer and copywriter specializing in parenting, health, healthcare, nutrition, food and women's issues. She’s also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.