The best start for a healthy pregnancy, is a healthy conception and the best chance of conception is with a healthy body. Two healthy parents who are prepared not only emotionally and financially for the changes ahead, but also physically. Having a healthy lifestyle, reducing stress, making sure you’re eating nutritional food and avoiding cigarettes and alcohol are not only likely to result in a more healthy baby, but are also a faster route to the much longed for positive pregnancy test!
Watch your body weight
We all know that a healthy weight is important for avoiding long term health issues, but being overweight or underweight can also have a huge impact on your fertility and the length of time it could take to conceive.
Not only that, but once pregnant your body will undergo extreme changes and be pushed to its limit, add in a few extra stone and you’ll find you’re at an even higher risk of blood pressure problems, and the extra weight of pregnancy will put more strain on your joints. If you are seriously underweight due to a poor diet, there is a risk your baby may be smaller than it should be during pregnancy.
If you’re already an exercise addict, that’s great, keep going! If not, try introducing some gentle, regular exercise: just three 20 minute sessions each week will make a difference. Walking, swimming and cycling are all great forms of exercise, that you continue into pregnancy.
Stress and anxiety
Your trying for a baby, it hasn’t happened straight away and the first thing to happen is you become anxious… As hard as it is, please try not to! High anxiety and stress levels are known to affect both fertility and the pregnancy, so if you’re working hard, staying up late or constantly meeting deadlines, make positive changes to reduce some of the stresses in your life. Think about new ways to relax, too, for example taking up a yoga class, or using a relaxation tape.
A good diet, providing you with all the necessary nutrients, is vital when you are planning to conceive. If you eat well, you should not need to take a general vitamin or mineral supplement, but if you do, make sure that you take one specifically designed for pregnant (or pre-pregnant) women, as these do not include Vitamin A. High levels of this fat-soluble vitamin may cause developmental abnormalities in the foetus.
Taking supplements before pregnancy
The one supplement all women planning for a baby should take is folic acid, one of the B vitamins. The Department of Health recommends taking a folic acid supplement as this has been shown to significantly reduce the risks of having a child with spina bifida. You can get the recommended dose of folic acid, 0.4mg a day (which may also be described at 400mcg or micrograms) at any chemist’s. If you are epileptic and take drugs to control your epilepsy, consult your doctor before taking folic acid.
As well as taking a supplement, try to eat more foods that contain folic acid. These include green leafy vegetables, especially sprouts and spinach, and some fortified breakfast cereals. If you are already pregnant, take the supplement as soon as you can and continue for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Foods to avoid
Some foods carry tiny risks for pregnant women and therefore you may like to avoid them when you are trying to conceive. These include:
- Soft cheeses, especially those made with unpasteurised milk, which may carry listeria.
There is a small risk that listeria can cause an infection which may lead to miscarriage
- Liver or foods containing liver, like pates, as these contain high levels of vitamin A
- Raw or undercooked meats which can carry listeria
- Pre-cooked chilled meals, which may carry food poisoning organisms if they are not
thoroughly reheated until piping hot
- Ready-washed salads which have been shown to sometimes carry listeria. Wash all
vegetables and salads before you eat them
- Lightly-cooked eggs. Hard boil eggs until the whites and yolk are solid to avoid
possible risk of salmonella
Checking your immunity
Most women in the UK will have been vaccinated against the rubella virus in their teens, but this does not necessarily give lifelong immunity. If a developing foetus is exposed to the rubella virus, especially in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, serious disabilities can result.
Ask your GP to check your immunity three months or so before you try to conceive. This involves a simple blood test to detect antibodies in your bloodstream. If you aren’t immune, you can have a vaccination, but it is important to then wait at least three months before trying to become pregnant.
If you or your partner smokes this will significantly reduce your chances of conceiving. Women who smoke are also more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage. Medical research has also shown beyond doubt that smoking affects the development of babies in the womb: many are smaller than average because they are effectively starved of oxygen while they are growing.
Giving up smoking is one of the single most important things you can do for yourself and for your developing baby. If you cannot give up, at least try to cut down. Your doctor or midwife may be able to put you in touch with a local support group or you can contact Quitline, a national helpline for smokers, on 0800 002200.
There is no evidence to suggest that an occasional social drink or two does any harm, before or during pregnancy. So while some couples decide to abstain from alcohol completely while they are trying for a baby, others find that a glass of wine or beer helps them relax.
But alcohol is a problem if taken in excess: binge drinking and alcohol addiction have been shown to affect the health of the developing baby. If you know that you drink more than you should, consider how you can reduce your intake before conceiving. Ask your doctor for help, and think about joining a support group.
Drugs and medication
If you are trying to conceive, it’s best to avoid taking any drugs, prescribed or otherwise. Some medicines can decrease fertility, so tell your GP you are trying for a baby if you need a prescribed medicine when you are ill. This is just as important for men as for women, as some prescriptions can affect sperm production or development. Talk to your GP if you are on long-term medication; he or she may be able to prescribe an alternative if the original drug is known to have an effect on fertility.
Be particularly careful if you come into contact with the following at work:
- Industrial chemicals, such as lead and arsenic
- Many types of paints or varnishes
- Soldering or work involving rubber
- Anaesthetic gases (which may cause early miscarriage)
- Dry cleaning fluids.
If you work in a potentially hazardous environment, talk to your health and safety officer or union representative about the possibility of altering your job or using extra protection while trying for your baby or when you’re pregnant. This can be just as important a consideration for men as for women, as some chemicals can affect sperm production. If in doubt, ask your doctor for advice.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection which causes few symptoms in a healthy adult, who may not even be aware of having caught it. However, it can have serious effects on an unborn child, including brain damage and blindness, especially if it is caught during the first three months of pregnancy.
This potentially dangerous disease is caused by an organism found in raw meat, cat faeces and contaminated soil, so you need to take extra care when you are pregnant or trying to conceive. To minimise the risk of contracting the infection:
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat
- Take care when preparing meats not to mix raw and cooked meats. Use separate chopping boards for raw and cooked meats
- Store meats carefully in the fridge so that raw meat juices do not drip onto other foods
- Wash your hands if you have handled raw meat
- Wash all fruit and vegetables carefully
- Always wear gloves when gardening
- Get someone else to empty the cat-litter tray
- Always wash your hands after stroking your pet