Start by visiting your family doctor for a check‐up about six months before you plan to conceive. Take your partner along with you, as he will need to make some changes in order to ensure good health for the baby…
Putting some effort into getting yourself ready for pregnancy can mean a faster conception, an easier pregnancy and a healthier baby…
A good starting point is to visit your family doctor for a check‐up about six months before you plan to conceive. Your doctor will give you suitable advice based on your personal circumstances. Take your partner along with you, as he will need to make some changes in order to ensure good health for the baby. By sharing the responsibility, you will both find it easier to make the necessary adjustments to your lifestyle.
If you don’t exercise on a regular basis, now is the time to start rather than wait until you are pregnant. Taking regular exercise does not mean working out at the gym several times each week, rather it means simply incorporating some exercise into your daily routine. You could, for example, try walking or cycling to your place of work and climbing up the stairs rather than taking a lift. Exercise can be fun and it’s a pastime both you and your partner can do together. For example, swimming is an excellent form of exercise because it allows you to stretch and tone your muscles without putting excessive stress on them.
It is important to have a dental check‐up and any necessary treatment before trying to conceive, since some forms of dental care e.g. X‐rays, can be harmful to your baby once you are pregnant. Also, some women are prone to gum disease during pregnancy so a pre‐pregnancy check‐up and then regular visits to the dentist during pregnancy can help prevent any potential problems.
Watching your weight
During your pre‐pregnancy period, it is a good idea to get your weight to a reasonable level. If you are overweight it is a good idea to try to lose the surplus before you conceive. Dieting during pregnancy is not advisable because cutting back your calories may have a harmful effect on your baby’s growth and development. Being underweight (by more than 15%) can stop you from ovulating, lower oestrogen levels and may affect your chances of becoming pregnant. Your family doctor will be able to advise you accordingly.
Taking folic acid supplements before conception and in early pregnancy can help to reduce the risk of having a baby with Spina Bifida and other neural tube defects. It is generally recommended that all women planning pregnancy should take at least 0.4 mg of folic acid daily for four weeks before conception and for the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. Folic acid supplements should be available from your local pharmacy. It is also advisable to eat foods that are rich in folic acid, such as: green salads, raw or lightly cooked vegetables, fresh fruit, fortified cereals and wholemeal bread.
Smoking and drinking alcohol
It is now quite well known that smoking and drinking too much alcohol can be harmful to your health and that of your baby. Drinking alcohol regularly, even in small quantities, can reduce the fertility of both partners thus making conception more difficult. Smoking can result in the birth of a smaller and less intelligent baby. Furthermore, recent concern is also being expressed about the health risks associated with passive smoking, that is, a non‐smoker inhaling smoke while in the company of smokers. There is also research that shows a link between smoking by the father to possible development of cancer in their children. This provides a compelling reason for men who smoke, and want to have children, to quit prior to attempting to conceive.
Eating a healthy diet
You need to eat a wide variety of foods to give you all the vitamins and nutrients you need for a healthy body. Listed below are four important food groups that you should eat each day:
1. Meat, fish, eggs and pulses (e.g. beans and lentils)
These foods contain protein and iron and should be included in at least two meals each day. If you are a vegetarian, your doctor can advise you on suitable alternatives.
2. Fruits and vegetables
They are high in minerals and vitamins, particularly vitamin C. You should try to eat 3‐4 pieces of fruit each day or 3‐4 portions of vegetables.
3. High fibre bread and cereals, pasta and brown rice
These foods are high in fibre, calcium and vitamin B and should be eaten each day.
4. Milk and milk products
Dairy products contain protein, calcium and a variety of vitamins. You should try to drink at least one pint of milk each day. Semi‐skimmed milk is a satisfactory alternative to full fat milk.
Please note, any extra or supplementary vitamins and minerals should only be taken after consulting your doctor. You should also consult your doctor if you suffer from any allergies to any of the above foods groups.
Food hygiene and safety
There are certain foods that should be avoided during the pre‐pregnancy period as well as during pregnancy, because they can contain harmful bacteria, such as Listeria and Salmonella. Foods containing high levels of Vitamin A should also be avoided, as they may be harmful to your developing baby. It is therefore advisable to avoid:
- Unpasteurised cheeses such as Brie and Stilton
- Raw or soft boiled eggs
- Raw or lightly cooked meats
- Liver or foods made from liver
- Cod liver oil
Also, the way foods are prepared and kept may encourage the growth of harmful bacteria. Normally, the effects of food poisoning in an adult may not be serious but it can be far more damaging to a developing baby. So, to keep foods as safe as possible, you should adhere to the following:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before handling food or eating
- Check the use‐by date of any shop‐bought foods
- Put chilled or frozen foods in your refrigerator or freezer soon after purchase
- Keep your refrigerator temperature to less than 5°C and your freezer at ‐18°C or below
- Make sure that raw foods (e.g. salad and fruit) are well washed before eating
- Make sure that all reheated food is piping hot before serving, and do not reheat food more than once
- Cover food in your refrigerator and store raw and cooked food separately in covered containers
During your pre‐pregnancy period you will still need to continue using some form of contraception until you feel ready for pregnancy. You can continue with your usual method except if you have been taking oral contraceptives (the pill). Before trying to conceive, it is advisable to wait at least one to three months after stopping the pill, so that your periods become more regular (the time taken for your periods to return to a regular cycle is often dependent upon your age and the length of time you have been on the pill). When you become pregnant your doctor will need to know the date of your last period in order to calculate the date your baby is due. The more regular your periods are, the more accurate your doctor can be. When you stop taking the pill, try one of the barrier methods such as a condom or diaphragm until you are ready to conceive. Ask your doctor or family planning clinic for further advice.
Harmful infections and substances
Some infections or toxic substances may not be particularly harmful to you as an adult, but they might linger in the body and affect your baby at conception. To be safe, follow these simple tips:
German measles (Rubella)
Exposure to this virus during early pregnancy can result in a seriously handicapped baby. Most girls receive a Rubella vaccination at school but it is advisable to have a blood test to check your immunity, prior to conceiving. If you are not immune you should be vaccinated as soon as possible. Then you should avoid becoming pregnant for the next three months as the mild form of the virus used in the vaccination could still be in your body.
This is a common infection caused by a parasite found in cats’ faeces, soil, raw or uncooked meats and unpasteurised ‘green top’ milk. It can affect both animals and humans, and can harm unborn babies. To avoid infection try to follow these simple rules:
- Avoid handling cat litter. Ask your partner to empty the litter tray, or if you have to do it yourself always wear rubber gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. The used litter should be bagged and sealed.
- Wear rubber gloves when gardening to avoid infection from the soil.
- Make sure you wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before use.
- Always wash your hands before and after handling meat, and store both cooked and raw meats in separate covered containers in your refrigerator.
- Avoid unpasteurised milk and its products.
If either of you or any of your family members have genetically inherited diseases such as Tay‐Sachs, sickle cell anaemia, haemophilia or cystic fibrosis, you may find that you are carriers of such genetic traits. Therefore, if this is of concern to you, please talk to your doctor before you conceive to discuss the tests that are available.
If you are planning to conceive shortly after your marriage and you intend to honeymoon overseas, it is advisable to determine from your doctor what sort of diseases are common in the country you will be visiting. If any inoculations are required, you will be advised as to their effect on your ability to conceive.
If either you or your partner are taking medications, even mild pain killers, discuss them with your doctor. Some medications may be harmful during pregnancy, so it’s advisable to seek advice and possibly change medication. This also goes for any other treatments you may be receiving. If you are prescribed any medication, it is best to tell your doctor that you are planning to conceive so that adjustments can be made if necessary.
Chemicals and pesticides
Although best avoided, if you have to use strong household chemicals, e.g. weed killers or cleaning fluids, wear rubber gloves to prevent these harmful substances getting into your body through your skin. Also, try not to use them in confined or poorly ventilated places because of the danger of breathing in harmful vapours.