Human beings are creatures of habit. That can be a very good thing if we have mostly healthy habits! Every one of us, however, has a bad habit like eating too much junk food, not getting enough sleep, smoking, drinking too much or never exercising. If you are thinking of getting pregnant then the time to make a change is now!
I am not suggesting that changing your behaviors is easy. As you can see in the STAGES OF CHANGE image above (Prochaska & DiClemente's Trans-theoretical Model of Change), changing your behavior can take time. Believe me, I have struggled to make behavior changes throughout my life and the process can be long and hard. Lets take my smoking addiction as an example:
STAGE 1: I was a cigarette smoker for 15 years (5 of those years I was a heavy smoker, 1-2 packs a day) and quit exactly 15 years ago! I loved smoking and certainly didn't quit overnight. First, I had to do some deep soul searching to understand WHY I was still smoking after all those years.
STAGE 2: I mistakenly thought that smoking brought stress reduction. I had used smoking as a "break" from studying - in high school, college and grad school. I felt that I worked hard and deserved this one thing to help calm me down. But I also noticed that I felt revved up after smoking too much (which I often did) and that I was smoking at other times too - when I went out with friends, when I had a cup of coffee (major trigger for me), etc. If I didn't smoke (long plane ride) I had a huge headache. I knew it was bad for my lungs, my heart, my skin etc. And once my nephew was born I wanted to be around him without smelling like an ashtray and exposing him to any pollutants. That was the last straw.
STAGE 3: I became determined to cut down. I was in grad school and started reading about how to quit smoking and was being trained in Motivational Interviewing, a highly effective therapy that I currently use with my patients who are motivated to make behavior changes.
STAGE 4: I restricted my smoking to a certain number of cigarettes per day. I went slow, because that worked for me, but for others cold-turkey may be the way to go. After 1 year I had cut down to only 10 cigarettes a day. After 2 years I was down to 5 cigarettes and by the time I met my husband, when I was 27 years old, I was only smoking 1-2 cigarettes a day! So when he encouraged me to quit, I was ready!
STAGE 5: I had to be vigilant at first to maintain this new lifestyle and unfortunately there was collateral damage. I had to stop being friends with an entire group of wonderful people because I knew I couldn't be around them and not smoke. It wasn't their fault, but I had to stay focused and maintain my new healthy habits. I started exercising more and eating right - and that helped me manage stress WAY better than smoking ever did!
Recurrence/Relapse: Don't beat yourself up if you don't stick with your plan 100%. I crave cigarettes often, even 15 years after quitting!
It's never too late to cut down or quit smoking. The benefits kick in immediately and at any age one can extend your life and improve your health! A study in the April 2005 Annals of Epidemiology reported that women who quit before age 30 are no more likely to die from lung cancer than their counterparts who never smoked. Read more HERE.
You may need professional help to achieve your goal (whether its smoking or any other unhealthy behavior), and that is ok. We are here for you!
Dr. Accortt in the News
5/18/18: TODAY.com Alyssa Milano on Postpartum Anxiety
5/3/18: Cedars-Sinai Maternal Mental Health Research
10/19/17: Cedars-Sinai Postpartum Depression Screening Program
3/24/17: MomCo. App for Social Support
Dr. Accortt is a California licensed clinical psychologist. When she isn't seeing patients in private practice she conducts research in the OBGYN department at Cedars-Sinai. She will update this page with important maternal mental health news and research.