Visit your GP
It’s a good idea to visit your GP for a health check if you want to start trying for a baby. This is particularly important if you have a long standing health issue, i.e. diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, or have a family history of one. The GP will be able to help if you have or think you may have contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or blood-borne virus (BBV), check that your immunisations are up to date and will be able to advise you on achieving a healthy lifestyle.
Depending on which method you have been using you may have to wait a few months for the hormones to leave your body. Until you are ovulating regularly each month, it can be hard to work out when you are most fertile for conception.
If you smoke it’s best to quit before you get pregnant. If you and your partner both smoke, this is a good time to quit together. Men who smoke tend to have a lower sperm count and risk damaging their sperm. Women who smoke tend to take longer to conceive. It’s best to wait 3-4months after quitting smoking before trying for a baby. Fertility improves for both men and women after quitting. You will feel the benefits straightaway and have a healthier pregnancy with less risk of pregnancy-related illness and complications such as miscarriage, premature birth and having a low birthweight baby.
There is a lot of support available to help you stop smoking and to stay stopped before, during and after pregnancy. You can call Smokeline on 0800 84 84 84, or speak to a Smokeline adviser online via web chat at Can Stop Smoking (external link). They can also give you details of the stop smoking services (individual or group support) available to help you to stop – there are even services available specifically for pregnant women. You might also be able to use nicotine replacement therapy to help you to stop – details are available from the stop smoking services. Stop smoking leaflets, a magazine and a DVD and details of stop smoking services can be requested from Smokeline, either by calling the helpline, or by texting ‘QUIT’ to 83434.
Being significantly overweight or underweight can affect your chances of conceiving and can increase the risk of complications when you become pregnant. It’s sensible to try to work towards a healthy weight when you start to think about trying for a baby. Eating a healthy diet, avoiding foods containing lots of fat and sugar and being physically active will help you to achieve a healthy weight and will build your stores of nutrients your baby needs to grow and develop.
It is important to eat a healthy, varied diet including regular meals to get your body ready for pregnancy.
A healthy varied diet should include:
Lots of fresh, tinned or frozen fruit and vegetables (at least 5 portions per day), starchy foods, protein, dairy and iron rich foods. Important nutrients for a healthy pregnancy are calcium, iron and folic acid. Whilst you can get these from supplements, try to get as many as possible from you diet.
Try to eat fish at least twice a week including some oily fish. But don't have more than two portions of oily fish a week. This includes fresh tuna (not canned tuna, which does not count as oily fish), mackerel, sardines and trout.
Make sure you don't have too much vitamin A. This means you should avoid eating liver and liver products such as pâté and avoid taking supplements containing vitamin A or fish liver oils (which contain high levels of vitamin A).
Further information can be found at Eat Well (external link).
Taking regular exercise before you try for a baby is good for you and your baby. Being fit or fitter than you were will help you through your pregnancy, labour and into motherhood. Aim to gradually build up to at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity activity a week in bursts of 10 minutes or more. One way to approach this is to do at least 30 minutes on at least five days a week. Good activities include swimming and brisk walking, which are gentle in movement and intensity.
Women and men who regularly exceed the recommended daily alcohol limits can damage their fertility. If you are trying for a baby and there is a chance you might be pregnant, then it is best to avoid alcohol. Remember, when you do get pregnant that there is no ‘safe’ time for drinking alcohol during your pregnancy, and there is no ‘safe’ amount. We do know that the risk of damage to your baby’s development increases the more you drink. Drinking no alcohol during your pregnancy is the best and safest choice.
Whilst there is no conclusive evidence that caffeine affects your ability to get pregnant, it is recommended that during pregnancy you should not consume more than 200mg of caffeine a day, equivalent to 2 mugs of instant coffee or 4 mugs of tea. Remember, many fizzy drinks and energy drinks contain caffeine. If you have a serious caffeine habit, or you could be pregnant, it will do no harm to start to cut back now. Remember your allowance includes chocolate and fizzy drinks; a 50g bar of plain chocolate can have as much as 50mg of caffeine and milk chocolate up to 25mg; a can of cola has 40 mg and a can of energy drink as much as 80mg.
Like alcohol, many illegal drugs lower sperm counts in men and fertility in women and may harm the unborn child or cause a miscarriage.
Don’t use any drugs during pregnancy other than those recommended by your doctor or midwife as safe to use.
If you are currently taking any street drugs, gas or glue speak to your GP or to a drugs counsellor prior to becoming pregnant.
Folic acid and other supplements
Folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects which can cause spina bifida and other conditions. You should take 400 microgram supplement of folic acid from the moment you stop contraception and are trying for a baby until the 12th week of pregnancy. In some situations you may be required to take a higher dose of 5 milligrams, for example if you have diabetes, coeliac disease or have previously had a child with spina bifida. It is important to speak to your GP before you start to try for a baby if you have these or any other chronic condition.
You should also take a supplement of vitamin D whilst you are pregnant and during breastfeeding. If you wish to take or already take a daily multivitamin then it is important you take one specially formulated for conception and pregnancy as these do not include vitamin A. Too much vitamin A during pregnancy can damage your baby.
Pregnant women, and women with children under four years old, who are on certain benefits may qualify for Healthy Start vouchers (external link). If you do qualify for Healthy Start vouchers you are also entitled to free Healthy Start Vitamins, these can be taken by pregnant women and babies from 6 months old. If you do not qualify for Healthy Start vouchers you may be able buy Healthy Start Vitamins for a small fee.
Rubella (German measles)
It is very important to check that you are immune to rubella. If you catch rubella in early pregnancy, it can be passed on to your unborn baby and it can cause serious damage to him or her such as deafness.
It’s a good idea to check that you’re fully protected against rubella if you’re planning to have a baby. If you’re not sure you’ve had two doses of the MMR vaccine, you can get your GP practice to check your vaccination history. If your records show you haven’t had both doses or there is no record, ask to have the vaccinations. Because MMR vaccination could cause a risk to your baby in pregnancy, you should avoid becoming pregnant for one month after having it. So you’ll need a reliable method of contraception.
Eliminate environmental dangers
Some jobs are hazardous to you and your unborn children. Avoid exposure to chemicals or radiation. If you stand or fly a lot, then consider making changes to your environment before you try for a baby.
A man’s testes should be a couple of degrees cooler than the rest of the body. Tight underwear, very hot showers and baths should be avoided.