Congratulations you’ve made the big decision to start trying for a baby! It will hopefully be magical and exciting time that you have ahead of you.
The questions may start reeling in your mind about all the possibilities lying ahead of you: what you can do to increase your chances of getting pregnant, or if there is anything you can do before getting pregnant. So we’ve put together a list of preconception tips to give you and baby the best start!
Start taking Folic Acid before getting pregnant
If you’re getting pregnant for the first time you may be surprised to hear how widely recommended Folic Acid 400mcg supplements are today. The World Health Organisation and NHS both recommend that women take 400mcg of Folic Acid before and during pregnancy. They advise to start the supplements 3 months before getting pregnant in order to benefit the most from it. If you’re already trying for a baby or are pregnant, then start taking Folic Acid as soon as you can.
Why is Folic Acid important? Medical studies in the 1970s found that by taking Folate before getting pregnant or in early pregnancy, women reduced the risk of their babies suffering from spina bifida, a neural tube defect. While it is strongly recommended to take it in the form of supplements, you can also top up on Folic Acid by eating foods that are naturally high in folate. These include dark leafy greens, broccoli, citrus fruits, beans, peas and lentils, avocado and brussel sprouts.
And it’s not just good for mamas-to-be but also for dads! High folic acid levels in men have been linked to a lower risk of abnormal chromosomes in the sperm.
You could take folic acid on its own or as part of an prenatal multivitamin. An observational study from the National Institute of Health found that taking a multivitamin before pregnancy decreased the risk of miscarriage by 50%. However take care to ensure that you are taking vitamins specifically for pre-conception or pregnancy and not just a general multivitamin. High doses of certain vitamins can be harmful to a foetus during pregnancy.
Get a full check up
Get a full check up with your general practitioner, before you start trying for a baby. Once you’re pregnant it can be more difficult to treat simple infections and illnesses. Foetuses are also very vulnerable to certain common illnesses such as chicken pox. So it’s a good idea to get it all checked out beforehand. Your health check could include:
- Your health profile. A general health check-up. You can also discuss any specific health concerns that you have which may need monitoring during pregnancy (such as high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma).
- Regular medication you are taking. Not all medication can be taken during pregnancy so it is worth discussing any medication that you may be on and whether it needs replacing or adjusting before or during a potential pregnancy.
- STD screen. It’s good to check for any infections that may need treatment before a pregnancy starts. It can be difficult to treat even small infections when you’re pregnant. If you have ongoing conditions you can discuss how these can be treated during a pregnancy.
- Vaccinations and immunity. Diseases such as German measles, Hepatitis B and chickenpox can be dangerous to the foetus if a mother gets it during pregnancy. Doctors generally advise to check your immunity to certain illnesses before you conceive. That way, if vaccinations need updating you can do these before the pregnancy. If you do need vaccinations, just make sure you check which ones contain live viruses. These need to be taken between 1-3 months before you get pregnant as the live virus can be dangerous to a developing foetus. You can discuss these with your general practitioner.
Ditch the bad habits
If there was ever a good reason to finally quit smoking, this would be it!
Smoking could not only cause a delay in getting pregnant, but it could also increase the likelihood of infertility by about a third according the Centre for Disease Control.
Smoking during pregnancy also increases certain risks to the baby such as low birth weight, premature birth and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Ideally it would be best to stop smoking at least one month before conception.
Marijuana and other drugs are a strict no-go during pregnancy, so if you take any drugs, make the effort to give those the boot as well. It’s worth it for you and for any future baby.
Start a healthy eating plan
Start a healthy eating plan with plenty of vegetables, fruits, protein and complex carbohydrates.
Medical professionals also advise cutting down on (or stopping) caffeine and alcohol. Both are considered to affect fertility and they may also increase the risk of miscarriage.
A recent observational study by the National Institute of Health found that drinking large quantities of coffee (3 or more cups of coffee) even before pregnancy could raise the risk of miscarriage by 74%! And it’s not just the mums-to-be that have to be careful, dads are advised to do the same.
Be on the look out for toxic substances around you
Keep an eye out around your home and work environment for any toxic substances or environmental hazards such as lead, chemicals, radiation, pesticides and cat or rodent faeces.
Contact your health and safety or trade union representative to discuss if you may be at risk and if your work needs to be adjusted.
Avoid toxins such as those in paints, glue or pesticides at home.
Find your ideal weight
Studies have shown that being either overweight or underweight can reduce fertility.
It may also increase the risk of complications when you do become pregnant.
Speak to your healthcare professional to find your ideal weight and discuss the ways that you can work towards achieving your goal before getting pregnant.
Exercise has many health benefits before pregnancy, and staying active during pregnancy can help you to have an easier pregnancy and delivery.
If you’re active, keep it up. If exercise is more of a rare event, it may be worth trying a gradual exercise routine that works around your schedule, to improve fitness and strength before a pregnancy.
Excessive training like preparing for marathons is not advised when you’re trying to have a baby so not to overdo it. If you have any health concerns always seek medical advice before exercising.
Whether it’s a relaxing holiday or weekend getaway, grab hold of the chance to relax and slow down.
Studies are finding ever more potential links between high stress lifestyles and infertility. It seems that stress not affects fertility indirectly as it often leads to bad sleep and bad diet. However stress also directly affects the signals from the hypothalamus which triggers ovulation and can prevent the fertilisation and implantation of the embryo to the uterus.
To prove this point an observational study in Israel sent a Clown in to visit women in a clinic who were undergoing IVF treatment to get pregnant. After the embryo was placed in the womb, the Clown entertained them for 15 minutes. They found that these women were 2.67 times more likely to get pregnant than the women in the control group.
The 15 minutes of laughter may have helped these mums-to-be to get pregnant.
Care for your gums
A less well-known fact is that scientists have found a link between gum disease and certain pregnancy outcomes such as low birth weight, early delivery and high blood pressure.
They believe that the potential cause for this slight increase in risk, is that germs which build up in the mouth during a gum infection, can leak into your bloodstream and travel to the uterus.
Having gum disease doesn’t mean that your baby will be hurt but it is a good idea to have a dental check-up to make sure that your gums are healthy.
Keep an eye on the fish
While fish can be part of a healthy diet, unfortunately many fish contain the metal mercury and mercury levels seem to be on the rise.
High levels of mercury in pregnancy may affect the development of a foetus’ brain and nervous system. As a result health professionals advise pregnant women to avoid fish with high mercury levels entirely – such as swordfish, shark and marlin. They are also advised to limit the intake of lower mercury fish such as tuna, salmon, trout and mackerel to two portions a week.
So with all these preconception tips out the way, we will leave you with the greatest one of all…relax and enjoy this exciting time!
For more pregnancy advice see our article Is it safe to exercise during pregnancy?
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