Preparing for pregnancy and advice on conceiving
If you’re trying for a baby there are things you can do to help ensure you have a safe and comfortable pregnancy - and that your child is healthy.
Take regular, moderate exercise so that your body is in good shape for pregnancy and you have plenty of energy and stamina for labour and caring for a baby.
Follow a healthy, balanced diet by trying to eat:
- plenty of fruit and vegetables (this can include fresh, frozen, tinned, dried produce, or a glass of juice)- aim for at least five portions a day
- plenty of starchy foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes (choose wholegrain options where you can)
- protein-rich food such as lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs and pulses (beans and lentils)
- dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, which contain calcium
You should try to avoid:
- processed foods and foods that are high in fats and sugar
- a high caffeine intake - even two cups of coffee a day can make it harder to conceive
Drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol can harm your chances of conceiving.
This applies to both men and women, so if you are having trouble conceiving you should cut out alcohol for a while and see if it helps.
Smoking also significantly lowers your chances of getting pregnant, increases your chance of miscarriage and, if you continue to smoke during pregnancy, your baby may be harmed.
The use of recreational and illegal drugs can put your baby at risk of miscarriage, premature birth and poor development.
Don't take any drugs during your pregnancy or in the month prior to conception.
If you are on the pill
If your pregnancy is planned and you're on the pill, it's best to wait three months after stopping before trying to conceive - this will reduce the risk of miscarriage.
Your doctor can advise on other forms of contraception.
Take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day for a month before conception, and also throughout early pregnancy, as part of your healthy diet.
Folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects of the brain and spinal cord (such as spina bifida) in unborn children.
If there's a family history of spina bifida, or you are taking medication for epilepsy, are diabetic or have coeliac disease, speak to your doctor (who may suggest you increase the dose to five milligrams daily).
Other vitamins and minerals
Make sure your multivitamin supplements include zinc (30mg per day), selenium (100mg per day), iron and vitamins B, C and E.
Many pharmacists will be able to provide you with a simple multivitamin and mineral supplement with all your daily requirements.
Rubella (German measles)
You'll need to ensure all your vaccinations are up to date. The most important of these is rubella. If you catch rubella in the first four months of pregnancy it can cause serious sight and hearing defects in your baby. If you’re unsure, ask your doctor to check your immunity status three months before you plan to conceive.
Get a general health check
Planning a pregnancy is a good chance for both parents to get a full health check. If your doctor plans to prescribe you new medications or antibiotics, remind them that you are planning a pregnancy. If there is a family history of medical conditions on either side, such as cystic fibrosis or diabetes, let your doctor know. You may need genetic counselling with a trained specialist.
Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be passed on to your baby during pregnancy, so make sure you have both been treated for any infections before planning to conceive. If the mother has a medical condition such as diabetes or epilepsy - or is being treated for depression or other mental illness - medications for these will need to be checked to make sure they will not affect the baby.
Stress has been shown to have effects on blood pressure, hormone regulation and the menstrual cycle. If you are trying to conceive or are having problems conceiving, try to eliminate any stressful areas in your daily life.
Getting pregnant may happen immediately, though for some people the wait will be much longer. If you are experiencing problems conceiving and you are worried that one of you might be infertile, talk to your doctor, who will organise a test. Once the results of the tests have been examined, your doctor will suggest a suitable method of treatment.
Some of the options include:
- a course of medication to stimulate ovulation, such as clomifene, metformin and gonadotrophins
- sperm/egg donation
- assisted hatching
- in vitro fertilisation (IVF)