If you’re thinking about starting a family, you’ll want to give your baby the best start in life – and that means making sure you’re as healthy as possible. Here are five ways to get your body ready for pregnancy
1. See your GP
It’s a good idea to have a general health check before trying for a baby – especially if you have a long standing health problem, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma.
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.
Having treatments for STIs before you get pregnant can improve your chances of having a successful pregnancy
2. Take supplements
While it’s a good idea to eat healthy, there are some supplements you should begin taking.
Folic acid supplements should be taken as soon as you stop using contraception and start trying for a baby – you should continue taking them until the 12th week of pregnancy. A daily 400mc folic acid supplement is advised but if you have diabetes, coeliac disease or have previously had a child with spina bifida, you may need a higher dose. Your GP can advise.
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.
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.
3. Watch your weight
Being significantly overweight or underweight can reduce your fertility, as well increasing the risk of complications when you do become pregnant.
If you are obese with a Body Mass Index of 30 or more, it’s a good idea to lose weight before you start trying for a baby. Embarking on an exercise programme will help make sure you’re fit throughout the pregnancy and for labour when the time comes.
If you are underweight with a Body Mass Index of less than 18.5, you're more likely to have an irregular menstrual cycle – and if your body isn’t having periods, you’re not ovulating each cycle. Generally, a healthy BMI is considered to be between 19 and 25.
4. 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.
5. Clean up your lifestyle
You know that smoking and drinking in pregnancy can harm your baby, but did you know that they can affect your fertility, too?
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.
As cigarettes, alcohol and illegal drugs can increase your risk of miscarriage, birth defects and low birth-weight, it’s a good idea to give them up now – making it easier to stick to your new healthy regime once that pregnancy stick tests positive!