So you’ve decided to have a baby – how exciting! While you could certainly get right to the baby making, there’s plenty both you and your partner can do to prepare for pregnancy before you try to conceive, giving you the best chance of having a healthy pregnancy and baby. But don’t worry, we’ve done all the research for you to help you get clued up.
Go for a pre-conception check-up
While not mandatory, it’s wise to consider booking a pre-conception check-up before you start trying for a baby. According to the NHS, “Preconception care is an opportunity for you and your partner to improve your health before you start trying for a baby. A healthcare professional can help you to assess your health, fitness and lifestyle, to identify areas that you may want to improve.”
This is especially useful if you have a pre-existing condition such as diabetes or epilepsy and are wondering how this could affect your pregnancy. You might find you need to stop using certain medication or even change to a different type but your GP will be able to tell you this.
A visit to the doctor can confirm whether your immunisations are up to date. Certain preventable infections, like chickenpox, German measles and hepatitis B, can cause miscarriage or birth defects, so it’s important to make sure you have been vaccinated. A blood test will reveal whether you've had the vaccination for German measles (rubella). If necessary, you will be given the MMR jab. Your doctor will advise when it’s safe to get pregnant after having the vaccine, but a month is usually suggested as a precaution.
If you are concerned about sexually transmitted infection (STI), discuss this with your doctor. Screening for things like hepatitis B, Chlamydia, syphilis and HIV can be done at your GP surgery or a genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinic. Having treatments for STIs before you get pregnant can improve your chances of having a successful pregnancy.
You may also want to discuss stopping contraception – which may involve having a coil or hormone patch removed. Depending on the method you have been using, you may have to wait a few months for the hormones to leave your body.
While we’re not saying you have to ditch the chocolate completely, a healthy diet is important for both you and your partner’s fertility when trying for a baby. At least four months before you plan to start trying for a baby, sit back and take an honest look at the food you are both eating. Ditch the junk food, aiming for a balanced diet full of fruit and veggies as well as protein-rich food like chicken, fish and whole grains. A low sperm count has often been linked with a zinc deficiency or a lack of essential vitamins. So, making some food changes can be a clever way to increase your partner's sperm count too.
While nobody is expecting you to be able to compete in a marathon, making an effort to fit in regular exercise will help your body to cope more easily when you’re pregnant. Exercise can also contribute to a healthy weight (where your body mass index is between 20 and 25). Women whose BMI is over 30 or even under 19 may experience problems conceiving. Similarly, your partner's fertility could suffer for these same reasons.
Ditch smoking and alcohol
While both smoking and alcohol should certainly be stopped while pregnant, you should consider stopping before you start trying for a baby too. Smoking may reduce fertility in women and there is also believed to be a link between smoking and poor-quality sperm. Visit the NHS Smokefree website if you need help to quit smoking.
It is also recommended that if you're planning to become pregnant, "the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum." And your partner isn't off the hook either - he should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, spread evenly over at least three or more days.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine studied the conception rates of 124 women and found that it was 11 percent for those who had one alcoholic drink a week, compared with 18 percent among women who were teetotal. Smokers had a conception rate of six percent, compared with 17 percent among non-smokers.
Take folic acid...
It is highly recommended that women who are trying to get pregnant should take a daily supplement of folic acid. You should take a 400 microgram supplement of folic acid every day before you get pregnant, and every day when you are pregnant, right up until you're 12 weeks pregnant. It’s important to have enough folic acid in your system before you get pregnant, as your baby needs it to develop a healthy brain and nervous system in the first weeks of pregnancy - a lack of folic acid can cause neural tube defects, which can cause spina bifida. According to the charity Shine: "When taken for eight weeks before conception, and in the early weeks of pregnancy, folic acid can help reduce the chance of babies being born with neural tube defects by around 70%."
Once you know you’re pregnant, it’s also advisable to start taking a vitamin D supplement – and continue taking it while you are breastfeeding. It’s also important to make sure you get enough iron and calcium from your diet.
If you want to take a daily multivitamin tablet, take care which one you choose. You’ll need one that’s specially formulated for conception and pregnancy. Ordinary multivitamin tablets can contain too much vitamin A, which can damage your unborn baby in pregnancy.
Have an honest conversation
While it may have been a subject you've joked about together, a serious conversation is required with your partner to ensure you are both on the same page when it comes to having a baby. If one of you is invested more than the other, this can soon create problems in the relationship. And remember, babies aren't cheap so it's necessary to take a look at your finances to ensure you can afford all those necessities. It's also never too soon to chat through what you'll both do regarding work when the baby is here as well as childcare plans.
Rest and relax
If you’ve been trying for a baby for a while, it’s only natural to worry and become stressed. While ‘just relaxing’ is easier said than done, extreme stress and lack of sleep have both been linked to infertility – so it’s important to rest and relax as much as possible.
While stress itself doesn’t cause infertility (although if it causes you to miss periods, you won’t be ovulating) it is associated with behaviours which can impact on your chances of conceiving – such as eating badly, weight gain (or loss) and insomnia. If stress is affecting how you eat or sleep, try talking over your concerns with a trusted friend. Simple things like listening to a relaxation CD or learning to mediate have proved helpful for many people.
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Having written for Mother&Baby magazine for four years where she wrote news, product pages, features and interviewed celebrities such as Paloma Faith and Fearne Cotton, Emily now works as Digital Writer for Mother&Baby online where she specialises in travel and product reviews.
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