Planning a pregnancy can often feeling daunting and it’s perfectly understandable to start thinking about what you need to do to prepare for this big life changing event.
Whilst you are only fertile (able to get pregnant) for just a few days in each menstrual cycle after an egg is released from her ovary, it may not happen straight away – however, around 1 in 3 women get pregnant within a month, so it’s best to be prepared for pregnancy even before you stop contraception.
Your health before pregnancy can also affect the lifelong health of your baby.
These are a number of the things you can do before pregnancy to make your pregnancy and baby healthier – check out our tips below:
- Cut out the smoking – partners too!
Smoking affects fertility in both men and women. By stopping smoking you will improve your chances of getting pregnant.
Smoking has also been shown to damage the DNA of your baby. During pregnancy smoking is the biggest risk factor for serious complications in pregnancy that you can change.
- Start the right supplements
Folic acid needs to build up in your body to provide maximum protection for your baby against neural tube defects. Many women conceive within one month of trying so it is ideal to start taking folic acid two months before you stop contraception.
If you have already stopped contraception, start taking a 400mcg folic acid supplement daily until you are 12 weeks pregnant.
Some women may be prescribed 5mg of folic acid – check with your GP if you need a higher dose.
It is also recommended that you take a daily vitamin D supplement.
Do not take cod liver oil or any supplements containing vitamin A (retinol) when you’re pregnant. Too much vitamin A could harm your baby.
Stick to pregnancy vitamins – but still always check the label to make sure they are safe to be taken in pregnancy.
- Feed yourself well
Eating a healthy, varied diet before and during pregnancy will help you get most of the vitamins and minerals you need.
You can improve your fertility by eating a healthy, balanced diet. The best foods include wholegrain, unsaturated fats and vegetable proteins such as lentils and beans.
Your diet before and during pregnancy will also affect your baby’s development in the womb and their health in the future. A healthy diet for pregnancy is the same as a healthy diet for life.
- Kick the caffeine habit
Research shows that consuming too much caffeine while you are trying to conceive can increase the risk of miscarriage. The research shows that this applies to both women and men. Too much caffeine in pregnancy has also been shown to be harmful to the developing baby.
If you’re planning to conceive, you and your partner should consider limiting your caffeine intake to less than 200mg a day, and even better try cutting it out completely.
- Aim for a healthy weight
Your BMI (Body Mass Index) is a measure that uses your height and weight to work out if your weight is healthy. The ideal BMI before conception is between 18.5 and 24.9.
Having a high BMI (over 25) can reduce your fertility and increases the risk of complications in pregnancy. Being overweight can also contribute to fertility problems in men.
If your BMI is in the underweight range (18.5 or less) it may affect your fertility and cause health problems during pregnancy. It may help to put on weight gradually with a healthy diet. There are many reasons why a person may be underweight. You GP can give you help and advice.
- Get active
The Department of Health recommends:
- at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week and
- strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles
Regular, moderate exercise before and after you conceive will help your fertility as well as benefiting your pregnancy and baby in the long term.
- Go alcohol free
Drinking alcohol in pregnancy increases the risk of complications.
This is especially true during the first three months of pregnancy as this is when the baby’s brain is developing.
You will not know when you are pregnant and that’s why the recommendation is that the safest thing to do is not drink any alcohol at all if you’re actively trying for a baby.
- Discuss with your doctor about any pre-existing conditions, any medications you are taking or previous pregnancy complications
Discuss with your GP or specialist that you are planning on getting pregnant if you have any known, long-term medical conditions for which you take medication, such as epilepsy, diabetes, asthma or mental health conditions.
There are some conditions and the medications that may make it harder to get pregnant. There may also be some risks linked to your condition or the medication used to treat them and pregnancy.
It is important not to stop taking medication before talking to a doctor or specialist about your plans to conceive. They will talk you through the safest choices during pregnancy with you.