Healthy Lifestyle Habits

How can I successfully 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 bad habits that have been repeated for years. 
  • Don't try to change everything at once. An ambitious plan to quit smoking and drinking, start eating better, and exercising all at the same time could lead you to become discouraged and give up. Start with changing a habit that will give you the most confidence to go on. For example, identify the toughest habit to break and work on that first.
  • 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 (quit smoking) into smaller ones (not buying cigarettes, smoking fewer and 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 support of the harmful behavior until they no longer scare you.
  • Arrange for reinforcement and encouragement. Organize ways to be supported by friends, colleagues, and relatives until your own pride in your accomplishment is enough to keep you going. Talk positively to yourself – be your own greatest fan and cheerleader. Find role models whose success inspires you. When the 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!
  • Get temptation out of the way. Re-arrange your surroundings to support your new behavior and not perpetuate the old one. If you are trying to quit drinking in preparation for getting pregnant, don't keep wine in the house. Ask your partner to support you by joining you in the new behavior.
  • Give yourself healthful rewards. Acknowledge small victories by having lunch with friends, taking a relaxing bath, getting a new haircut, or buying a CD of music you love. 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.
  • Make no exceptions for 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, or 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. Yes, 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. That's fine. But grieving does not mean going back into the old behavior. Talk about the change to a health professional, a friend, a colleague, or a family member. Be as upset with the change as you have to be and then focus on the benefits you want that led you to make this change. Hang on tight – you'll make it!
  • 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 might be most inclined to slip when you feel deprived, so instead of mindlessly eating high fat, sugary foods, eat healthier snacks instead.
  • Join a support group. People who share your concerns can help you reach your goals. There are groups for just about every concern. You will find resources for finding such groups, as well as other resources for changing habits on this website.
  • Be motivated by why you are doing it. Sometimes it's easier to make changes for someone you love than for yourself. Think about the baby you are planning for. Don't indulge in any habits you wouldn't want your child to have.
Most recent page update: 10/26/2012

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