If you’ve made the decision to start trying to conceive, or have set a date in the future to start, there are a number of key steps you can take to give yourself a better chance of achieving a healthy pregnancy. Please note that the information below is not a substitute for advice from a qualified Health Care Professional, and if you have any specific concerns or queries, it is best to make an appointment to see your GP to discuss them.
German Measles (Rubella)
Although most women will have had a vaccination whilst at school, it’s very important that you get your immunity checked before you start trying to conceive, as immunity can wear off over time. Should you contract rubella during early pregnancy, it can result in serious damage to your developing baby. If the test reveals that you are not immune, you should be have a vaccination as soon as possible, and you should then delay trying to conceive for three months, as the vaccination contains a mild form of the Rubella virus, which may still be present in your body.
Some medicines may be harmful during pregnancy, so if either you or your partner are taking any medication it's advisable to seek advice from your doctor. 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.
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 this takes varies greatly from woman to woman. Your doctor will need to know the date of the first day of your last period, in order to work out your due date – the more regular your menstrual cycle, the more accurate your doctor can be. However, it is not a problem if you should fall pregnant before your cycle settles down again – most health authorities offer a dating scan when you are around 12 weeks pregnant, which will be able to confirm your due date. 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.
If you are planning to conceive shortly after your marriage and have booked or plan to book a honeymoon abroad, it is a good idea to speak to your doctor about what inoculations are required. It may be necessary for you to postpone trying to conceive until a few months after your honeymoon, as some inoculations and malaria tablets can cause damage to a developing baby.
If you, your partner, or any of your family members have genetically inherited diseases (for example - sickle cell anaemia or cystic fibrosis), it is possible that you are carriers of the condition. In these cases, it is very important that you speak to your doctor before you start trying to conceive, to discuss the tests that will be available to you.
A Healthy Lifestyle
Cigarettes and Alcohol
Now is a good time to cut down your intake of alcohol, and to cut out the cigarettes. Fertility in both partners can be reduced by regular consumption of alcohol, so by reducing your intake you may increase your chance of falling pregnant. Women who smoke during pregnancy tend to have smaller babies, who will be more vulnerable to infections, and may have future health problems such as asthma. So, as part of your preparations for pregnancy, you should both try to stop smoking and cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink. Your GP will be able to offer you advice and support with this.
If you don't exercise on a regular basis, now is the time to start rather than wait until you are pregnant. If you don’t fancy going to the gym, or doing an exercise class, then you could try swimming, or yoga, or simply incorporating some exercise into your daily routine. Try walking to the local shops or getting off the bus one stop earlier. Exercising with someone else makes it a more social activity – perhaps you could find a form of exercise that you and your partner could do together?
Care of your teeth
It’s a good idea to have a dental checkup before you get pregnant – some dental care, such as x-rays, can be harmful to your baby when you are pregnant. A pre-pregnancy check up can also help prevent any problems during pregnancy, as some women become prone to gum disease during pregnancy.
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.
Food For Thought
Eating a Healthy Diet
Listed below are four important food groups that you should eat each day. A good balanced diet is important for a healthy body, and even more so when your body will be working extra hard to grow a baby.
Meat, Fish, Eggs and Pulses (e.g. beans and lentils)
These foods contain protein and iron, try to eat two portions daily
Fruits and Vegetables
High in minerals and vitamins, particularly vitamin C. You should try to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day, these can be fresh, frozen, dried or tinned (avoid fruit tinned in syrup though)
High Fibre Bread and Cereals, Pasta and Brown Rice
These foods are high in fibre, calcium and vitamin B.
Milk and Milk Products
Dairy products contain protein, calcium and a variety of vitamins. If you don’t like drinking plain milk, you could try making smoothies with fresh fruit, or eating yoghurts, cheese etc.
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.
Whilst trying to conceive, and during pregnancy, there are certain foods that should be avoided. These include:
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
Full details of the current government guidelines can be found on the Foods Standards Agency website at www.food.gov.uk.
Food hygiene becomes more important during pregnancy as well. A case of food poisoning may not be serious in an adult, but can be very harmful for a developing baby. The following rules should be followed to reduce the risks of food poisoning:
Wash your hands thoroughly before handling food or eating
Check the use-by date on foods
Check your fridge’s temperature – your fridge should be between 5°C and 0°C, and your freezer should be below -18°C
Put chilled or frozen foods in your refrigerator or freezer soon after purchase
Cover food in your refrigerator and store raw and cooked food. Raw meat should be stored at the bottom of your fridge, to prevent any of the juices dripping onto other foods
Wash fruit and vegetables (including pre=packed salad) before eating
Make sure that all reheated food is piping hot before serving, and do not reheat food more than once
The risk of having a baby with Spina Bifida or other neural tube defects, can be reduced by taking Folic acid in the early weeks of pregnancy. 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. It is also advisable to eat foods that are rich in Folic Acid. These include:
Raw or lightly cooked vegetables, including green salad leaves
Fortified breakfast cereals
Editor, TreeHugger Mums