Ready for a baby?

Some marriage therapists offer pre-baby counseling to prepare parents for some of the biggest showdowns, such as the division of labor. A rigid schedule can be unrealistic given the unpredictable nature of parenthood, Fitzpatrick said, but going in with some guidelines helps smooth the path.

Is your relationship happy?

Some couples who don't get along, or suspect the other of infidelity, hope that a baby will set things right. It won't.

Take a look at how you and your partner interact.

"How nice are you to each other? Do you express appreciation for each other on a regular basis?" Fitzpatrick said. "That will be worth its weight in gold after you have a child."

Do you have a supportive environment?

Having family nearby, friends who are willing to baby-sit for a date night, a supportive congregation, and a means of meeting other local moms and dads provide a much-needed safety net, Fitzpatrick said.

Do you have a lot of debt?

While people can raise healthy kids under a number of financial circumstances, debt is a concern because it's easy for cute baby items to add up to massive interest payments, Fitzpatrick said. Make sure you can cut back on certain things to start accruing savings. Also, consider how the family finances will be affected if one person leaves work for a while, or severely cuts back on hours, to care for the newborn.

How's your health?

A woman should be within a 10-pound range of her ideal weight before she becomes pregnant, as obesity can contribute to myriad health problems during pregnancy, including gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, said Tori Kropp, a perinatal registered nurse in San Francisco and author of "The Joy of Pregnancy" (Harvard Common Press).

Prospective moms and dads should cut back on cigarettes, alcohol and recreational drug use and be prepared to eliminate them once pregnant.

If a woman is on antidepressants that are not compatible with pregnancy, she might consider starting the tapering-off process, Kropp said.

Do you think life is over once baby comes?

It isn't. While children require a great sacrifice of time and money, one day they'll fly the coop and you'll have a few decades left to focus on your career, Fitzpatrick said.

You may have to give up happy hours, but it's still possible, and advisable, to maintain a social life while raising kids. View it as an opportunity to assume a leadership role in organizing potlucks or parents groups.

Diagnosing 'baby fever'

In a new study to be published in the journal Emotion, Kansas State University researchers exploring the reasons behind "baby fever" — that visceral urge to have a child — found three factors that consistently predicted how much a person wanted to have a baby.

Positive baby experiences, such as holding and cuddling babies and looking at baby toys and clothes, made people pro-baby.

Negative baby exposure, such as screaming, dirty diapers and drooling, made people averse to having kids.

Trade-offs people were willing -- or not willing -- to make in education, career, money and social life.

-- A.E.R.