Managing the who, what, when, where, and why of beginning a family as a graduate student
Graduate school can coincide with when you and your partner want to start a family. Understanding the resources available to you as a graduate student will help prepare you for life as a parent.
A Guide to Pregnancy
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Contraception and reproductive healthcare ensures that you can start a family when you choose to (even and especially if you choose never to at all!). Talk openly with your healthcare provider about what methods are right for you. If you are looking for low-cost care, Planned Parenthood has two locations in Madison: South Health Center and East Health Center.
Pregnant women are a population that is protected by Title IX laws, meaning that no one may discriminate against women on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Further, employers are legally obligated to provide nursing mothers with time and space (other than a public restroom) to express. If you feel that you are facing a difficult situation in the workplace regarding your pregnancy, please contact the graduate coordinator for your program for more information about your options. These may include mediation, use of University Ombuds, and other methods to resolve the situation. If you still feel that your situation has continued despite university intervention, please contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by calling 800-669-4000 (voice) or 800-669-6820 (TTY) or visiting your local EEOC office (see https://www.eeoc.gov/field/index.cfm for contact information).
For more information about how to discuss your pregnancy with your employer, see What To Expect’s page regarding the matter.
You’ve decided to have a baby – now what? If you are not already pregnant, there are a number of things that you can do prior to conceiving to ensure a healthy pregnancy. These include:
- Getting an STI screen: you may be the lowest risk person in the world, but your doctor will still want to see that you do not have any sexually transmitted diseases, in particular, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, and HIV
- Getting a PAP smear: your doctor may want to screen for abnormalities of the cervix as well as possible HPV infections. If abnormal cells are found, your doctor may recommend treatment prior to trying to conceive
- Blood typing: if you do not know your blood type or do not have it on file, you will need to get tested. An Rh-negative mother carrying an Rh-positive baby will need special healthcare at the end of her pregnancy, and the sooner that you can plan, the better! Further, your healthcare provider will look for different levels of antibodies within your blood that target red blood cell A and B antigens
- Getting all other healthcare “out of the way”: prior to conceiving is the perfect time to check in with your dentist and your primary care doctor to make sure that you are healthy!
- Stop all drinking, smoking, and drug usage: you never know when you may become pregnant after you start trying so it is recommended that possibly-expectant mothers stop drinking and smoking prior to pregnancy. Consult with your healthcare provider about whether weaning off of prescription medications is advised.
- Stop eating particular foods
- Start taking a prenatal vitamin – even if you’re not pregnant yet!
These tests can be done after conception as well – the more information that your healthcare provider has, the better!
When trying to conceive, you may choose to let nature take its course. It is important to remember that every situation and parental combination is different, and you may not get pregnant right away. That’s perfectly normal! If you are having trouble conceiving for more than 6 cycles, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to plan. These may include charting ovulation through basal body temperature, cervical mucous monitoring, and ovulation tests to ensure that conceptive activities take place in the proper time span. If you are having difficulty conceiving for more than a year, contact your healthcare provider to talk about more detailed fertility testing.
There is no shame in having difficulty conceiving, and stress can contribute to your likelihood of conception. While trying to conceive, make positive lifestyle changes that benefit your overall wellness.
Conception takes place on average two weeks after your last menstrual cycle. This is when your ovary releases an egg into the fallopian tube. Sperm then travel to the tube to fertilize the egg. After fertilization, the egg has 7-14 days to implant into the lining of the uterus. During these two weeks, you may not register positive on a pregnancy test so don’t stress or try to test too soon! Most pregnancy tests have a detection minimum of 50 ng HCG (the hormone used to detect the presence of a baby) – your embryo won’t produce that amount right away. It is advised to test in the days immediately after a missed menstrual period. However, if you are itching to find out as soon as possible after ovulation, you can use particular tests that have a lower threshold (~10 ng HCG) that will allow you to know 1-2 days post-attachment.
If you test positive using an at-home pregnancy test, you will want to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider in order to see what the next steps are. They may want to do their own pregnancy test to confirm your home test results as well as provide additional consultation.
Your first trimester will consist of a lot of bodily changes or perhaps none at all! Every woman is different. Your healthcare provider will recommend the necessary care during this time.
Unfortunately, not every pregnancy makes it to term, and miscarriage rates are highest during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. See your healthcare provider immediately if you experience severe cramping or bleeding during your first trimester.
The majority of miscarriages are due to genetic defects in the embryo that prevent further development. You may feel an immense sense of loss or guilt following a miscarriage – these emotions are normal, and it is important for you and your partner to take emotional care during this period. Contact your healthcare provider if you feel that counseling during this period is right for you. There is no shame in the loss of a pregnancy as it is often unpredictable and unavoidable.
You may want to ensure that your baby has every chance to be healthy, even before it is born! This includes a battery of tests that you can choose to have throughout your first and second trimesters. These include:
- Blood tests to measure levels of AFP, betaHCG, and estrogen called the Triple Screen to test for trisomies
- Genetic screens for whether you are a carrier for cystic fibrosis
- The 12 Week ultrasound, which can examine the thickness of the fluid under the baby’s neck, called the Nuchal Translucency Test
- Tests for spina bifeda and neural tube defects in the second trimester
- The 20 Week ultrasound, called the Anatomy Scan. Your doctor will go through each of the baby’s organs to identify any possible problematic elements
Taking Care of Your New Baby
The University of Wisconsin-Madison provides employees 12 weeks of unpaid family leave after the birth of a new baby. However, as graduate students, we have more flexibility as we often work from home and continue to do so while taking care of an infant. Contact your graduate coordinator to see what your program’s policy is regarding parental leave as well as talk with your advisor about their expectations for the postpartum period.
Taking care of a new baby can be an exciting and terrifying time. In order to prepare new parents, many hospitals will provide first-year childcare classes.
Getting Set Up
Having and taking care of a baby can be really expensive, and the additive costs may seem overwhelming! There are many low-cost ways to get supplies necessary for infant care. Madison has a number of baby products consignment sales where you can buy items for a fraction of the retail value. These include:
- Lil Badger Consignment Sale (often has a special pre-sale for first-time parents that is easy to sign up for!)
- Half-Pint Consignment Sale
- Just Between Friends Sale
Further, you can get many essential baby items at discount outlets, including: