Becoming a Parent 101

Becoming a parent starts before your child even arrives. From healthy living to healthy relationships, we've got you covered! Learn how to plan for your new family. Here's what you can find in this section:   

Your mental health

Pregnant or thinking about having a baby? There are many things you can do to give your baby the healthiest start possible. Making sure you and your partner are in good physical health is just one step. Did you know that taking care of your mental health is just as important?

Why is good mental health is so important?

Mental health is important at every stage of life from infancy to adulthood. Being in good mental health helps you:

  • Build positive relationships
  • Cope with stress
  • Solve problems
  • Feel good about yourself
  • Interact with your family, friends and community

The most critical time of growth in your baby's life is the first 2000 days and it begins in pregnancy. This is a time of fast development especially the growth of your baby's brain

Your relationship with your baby also starts during pregnancy. Being in good mental health will help you and your partner start to build a positive relationship with your baby.

How can you take care of your mental health?

Here are a few ways:

  • Get to know yourself, how you think and feel under stress.
  • Take care of your body - eat well, be active, enjoy nature and get enough sleep
  • Learn to take time each day to breathe deeply, relax and still your mind.
  • Connect with family, friends, co-workers, neighbourhood resources or faith groups to build a community to support you and your family.
  • Reach out to family, friends or a health professional to talk about your mental health and to ask for the help you need.
  • Enjoy life, listen to music or laugh with a friend
  • Keep things simple and learn to say "no".  Don't take on more than you can handle.
Deciding how to feed your baby

Deciding how you are going to feed your baby is a very important decision. Here are some things to think about to help you decide.

 Are you thinking about breastfeeding?

  • Breast milk is good for your baby because it:

    • Is always fresh and ready.
    • Helps lower the risk of overweight and obesity.
    • May increase protection against illnesses such as childhood diabetes.
    • Increases protection against ear, chest and stomach infections.
    • May increase protection against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), also called crib death.
    • Helps to prevent constipation.
  • Breastfeeding is good for mom because it:

    • Promotes closeness and touching with baby.
    • Helps the uterus to return to its' normal size after birth.
    • Helps to control bleeding after birth.
    • Helps to protect against cancer of the breast and ovary.
  • Feeding your baby breast milk is good for families, communities and the environment as it:

    • Saves money as formula can cost a lot
    • Saves time as there is no need to prepare formula and bottles
    • Does not produce any garbage. There are no formula and bottle packages to throw out.

It is important to know that:

  • There are safe birth control options to take while breastfeeding
  • Women have the right to have changes made at work so they can keep breastfeeding when they go back to work
  • When you stop breastfeeding it is hard to reverse the decision

 Are you thinking about formula feeding?

Before you make your decision about formula feeding, you should know:

  • Formula feeding is associated with a higher risk of ear, chest and stomach infections
  • Formula does not change to meet baby's growing needs
  • Formula feeding is less convenient as extra time needed for sterilizing equipment and making formula
  • It's possible to make mistakes when making the formula
  • There is potential for contamination when the formula company is making it

For personal or medical reasons, some families make an informed decision to give their baby formula. Have you decided to give formula to your baby? Ottawa Public Health has information for you on how to make the formula safely.

How to plan for a safe pregnancy

Planning a pregnancy is an exciting time. We are happy that you came to Parenting in Ottawa to find out more about planning a safe pregnancy. There is always a chance that a pregnancy will not go as expected. A "safe" pregnancy means reducing your risk of complications. This section gives you more information about some of the health risks that are in your control. We will cover risk factors such as:


Stress is a part of everyday life . We all react to stress in different ways. Learning how to deal with stress before pregnancy can help improve the health and well-being of your family.

You may have problems getting pregnant because of stress that does not go away. Women can have changes to their periods and the timing of the egg leaving the ovary. Men can have a low sperm count.

What are some signs of stress?

  • Feeling tired all the time 
  • Feeling tense or anxious
  • Feeling sad or irritable
  • Frequent minor health complaints
  • Change in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Change in relationships
  • Using alcohol, medications or other drugs to relax
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions

What can I do to lower my stress level?

  • Have a laugh a day
  • Get enough rest and sleep
  • Be physically active
  • Eat healthy
  • Do activities that help you relax (for example, listen to music or go for a walk)
  • Talk to a supportive person
  • Take some time for yourself every day
  • Learn to say "no" and don't take on more than you can handle
  • Ask for help when you need
  • Plan ahead
  • Make lists to help keep you organized
Smoking, alcohol, cannabis and drug use

Smoking, alcohol, cannabis and drug use are linked to health problems for the growing baby.


Smoking tobacco can make it hard for you to get pregnant. You can increase the chance that your baby will be born healthy by quitting smoking, or smoking less before and during your pregnancy.

Smoking during pregnancy can lead to:

  • Miscarriage
  • Going into labour too early
  • Your water may break too soon
  • Problems with placenta (with risks to mom and baby)
  • Increases your child's risk for:

    • Being born too small
    • Infections and other health problems
    • Behaviour and mental health problems (such as ADHD, autism, depression, learning problems)


Alcohol crosses the placenta to baby. Alcohol use during pregnancy can put your baby at increased risk of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). FASD is the leading cause of developmental disability in Canadian children. Once you have decided to try to become pregnant, it is best not to drink at all.

Men who drink alcohol are at higher risk of having a low sperm count. A low sperm count makes it harder to get pregnant.


Cannabis can affect the quality of the sperm or egg. Cannabis use during pregnancy can result in a higher risk of babies being born too soon or too small. Children may also develop learning problems as they grow. It is safer to not use cannabis before planning a pregnancy.

If you can’t or don’t want to stop using cannabis completely:

  • Try using less, and less often.
  • Choose a cannabis product with a lower amount of THC.
  • Avoid second-hand cannabis smoke. Make your home and car smoke free. If you smoke, do it outside and ask family members and visitors to do the same.
  • Avoid mixing or consuming cannabis with alcohol, tobacco, prescription and/or non-prescription medications.

  • Consider using cannabis products you can eat, such as oils, capsules or edibles rather than smoking to protect your lungs. Start with the least amount of THC possible and be aware the effects are delayed.

If you consume cannabis and want help to reduce your use or would like help quitting, you can:


Other drugs such as cocaine can affect the quality of the sperm or egg. Babies born to mothers who use drugs are at higher risk of being born too soon or too small. They may also develop learning problems when they are older. It is safer to stop using drugs before planning a pregnancy.

Medications: Over-the-counter and prescribed

Some prescription and over-the-counter medicines may have an effect on your fertility. They can also prevent a baby from growing normally. A medicine that is safe for you may not be safe for a growing baby.

Before getting pregnant, talk to your health care provider:

  • Before you take any over-the-counter medicines, vitamins or herbal products
  • Before you stop any prescription medicines

The places where you live, work and play can have common dangers that make getting pregnant harder. These dangers can also cause problems during the pregnancy.

What are some of the dangers?

  • x-rays
  • chemicals
  • gases
  • viruses
  • bacteria
  • pesticides
  • excessive noise
  • formaldehyde

Know about the dangers near you.

It is important to find out how you can stay away from them or decrease your time near them.

  • Read product labels. Some products contain harmful chemicals
  • Make sure to wash your hands well
  • Use protective equipment such as gloves, or a mask where required
  • Ask for a temporary change in duties at work
  • Keep area well aired when working with gases and fumes
  • Keep your home and car smoke-free. If you smoke, take it outside.
  • Ask someone else to change the cat litter.
Healthy relationships


Relationships and social support play an important role in planning a pregnancy and having a family. A baby brings many joys and many challenges to your life.

Are you ready for a baby?

It is normal to feel many emotions, from excited to worried, when thinking about having a baby. Keeping the lines of communication open with your partner will help you both through this time. Talk openly and honestly with your partner about your thoughts and feelings and in return, be ready to listen to theirs.

Some things you may want to talk about are:

  • What are your fears and worries?
  • How do you want to parent your child?
  • What excites you most about becoming a parent?
  • How do you think your relationship will change?
  • What kind of support network do you have now or do you need to build one?

It is also a good idea to make sure you each have time alone to talk things over with someone who has been through this experience before.

Having a baby will not improve a bad relationship. Abuse can often start or worsen during pregnancy. If this applies to you, look for help now and talk to someone you trust. Help is available in the community. Call:

Sexual health

Your sexual health is an important part of getting pregnant and having a healthy baby. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are infections passed during sexual contact. You could have an STI and not even know it. If left untreated, some STIs can make getting pregnant hard.

Both partners should have regular physical exams. You should also talk to your health care provider about getting tested for STIs before you get pregnant. STIs are treatable and most are curable.

Once you have decided to try to get pregnant, you will need to stop using birth control. You can just stop barrier methods such as condoms, sponges and diaphragms once you are ready to get pregnant. If you are using an intrauterine device (IUD) let yourself have at least one normal period before trying to get pregnant.

You should wait to have one normal menstrual cycle before trying to get pregnant if you are using a hormonal type of birth control. These types of birth control include the pill, patch or ring. If you are using Depo-Provera you should wait at least 6 to 9 months before trying to get pregnant. Women using hormonal types of birth control should use a non-hormonal type until they have had one normal period.

Getting pregnant
First Steps

Deciding you want to have a baby is a big decision. You want to make sure that you and your partner are physically and emotionally healthy. Please take a look at the information on healthy eating and active living section above.

When you and your partner feel like the time is right to try to start a family book an appointment with your health care provider.

With your health care provider, talk about:

  • Your general health
  • Medications your take
  • Vaccinations you might need
  • Testing for sexually transmitted infections

It is also a good idea to see your dentist before pregnancy. Dental problems in pregnancy can affect mom and baby.

Once you have decided to try to get pregnant, you will need to stop using birth control. The chart below has information about how long you need to wait after you stop birth control to get pregnant.


  Types of Birth Control

  How Long to Wait Before Trying to Get Pregnant

Barrier methods (condoms, sponges, diaphragm...)

No need to wait

IUD (intrauterine device)

Until you have one normal period after removal

Birth control pills, patch or ring

Until you have one normal menstrual cycle after stopping


6-9 months after the last shot


Ovulation and Fertilization

An egg and a sperm must meet in order for a woman to become pregnant. The best time for this to happen is when the woman is ovulating. Ovulation is when the egg leaves the ovary and waits in the fallopian tube to join with the sperm. Most women release an egg 14 days before her period starts.

You can predict when you are ovulating by:

  1. Keeping track of your periods.

The easiest way to find out when you are ovulating is by keeping track of your period. You should do this for at least 2 months. Put a "P" on the calendar the first day you start your period. Count the number of days in your cycle by counting from the first day of one period to the first day of your next period. Count back 14 days from the start of each period of each month you were keeping track. Put an X on these dates. The X's mark the days you most likely released an egg. Your egg could leave the ovary 2 days before or 2 days after where you place the X. The best time to fertilize the egg is around the time of ovulation. If the time between your periods is not regular speak to your health care provider.

  1. Discharge from your vagina.

When you release an egg the discharge from the vagina is clear and sticky and there is lots of it.

  1. Check your temperature.

When you ovulate your body temperature rises a bit. Take your temperature every day before you get out of bed and write it down. Your temperature will be higher for a week to ten days after ovulation. You need to use a "basal body temperature thermometer".

It is not necessary to have sex every day around the time of ovulation. This can decrease sperm count. The recommendation is to have sex every other day during ovulation.

Fertilization is when the egg and sperm meet. This happens in the fallopian tube. The fertilized egg or embryo moves down the fallopian tube and into the uterus. Implantation is when the embryo gets to the uterus and attaches itself to the lining of the uterus. This is where the baby will grow until birth.

How long will it take to get pregnant?

There is no way to guess how long it will take for you to get pregnant. It is different for everyone. Most women get pregnant within one year of trying. Talk to your health care provider if you are not pregnant after a year of trying. Your health care provider can make an appointment for you to see a doctor at the fertility clinic in your area.

Does age matter?

Increased age can make it harder to get pregnant. Fertility, the ability to get pregnant, falls in a woman's mid thirties. Women over 35 years old should see a fertility specialist after 6 months of trying to get pregnant. Women who are 38 years should see a fertility specialist without waiting.

How will I know I'm pregnant?

Some early signs of pregnancy are:

  • a missed period
  • feeling tired
  • breasts are tender
  • you have to pee more often
  • feeling bloated
  • nausea
  • unusual bleeding (different from your period)

If you think you are pregnant or have a positive home pregnancy test book an appointment with your health care provider. Early prenatal care is very important for you and your baby.


Adoption is another way to have a family. Families are about love, nurturing, and support for all members. To find out more, visit the Adoption Council of Canada. They have resources, information, peer connections and support to assist in your decision making.


 Healthy eating and active living
Eating well, taking a multivitamin, and being physically active when trying to conceive, and during pregnancy, can help you and your baby be in good health. Visit our “Healthy eating and active living for a healthy pregnancy” webpage to learn more. 

Want to speak with a Registered Dietitian? 

Call Health Connect Ontario and ask to speak with a Registered Dietitian. Available Monday-Friday 9am-5pm by calling 811 (TTY: 1-866-797-0007) or starting a chat  

Do you have more questions about parenting?

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