Last updated December 2011. Planned review date: December 2012
Are you ready to conceive?
Follow these simple steps to make sure that your body is in the best condition to for conception. If you have stopped using contraception you could be pregnant at any time.
Conception health tips
- Eat a balanced and healthy diet.
- Take a 400mcg folic acid supplement every day.
- Avoid alcohol and ask your partner to cut down too.
- Stop smoking and ask your partner to give up or cut down as well.
- Get your partner to eat a healthy diet.
- If you are overweight or obese now is the time to start exercising. Obesity increases the risk of pregnancy problems.
It may be tempting to live it up a little before the hard work of pregnancy, but getting yourself into shape beforehand will improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy for both you and your baby.
It's worth bearing in mind, too, that you won't know you're pregnant for the first few weeks, so if you're trying for a baby, think about making lifestyle changes sooner rather than later.
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Diet and nutrition
While you are trying to conceive you might need to make some adjustments to your diet and eating habits. Maintaining a healthy diet if you are overweight will not only improve your chances of conceiving but also help your body prepare for the demands of pregnancy.
There’s a bit more to this than just cutting out the junk. There are some important things you need to know about which foods are good for you and your baby, and which foods you should avoid altogether. See our diet and nutrition in pregnancy page for more information. Being overweight (or underweight) can affect your fertility, so you should try to achieve a healthy weight before trying to conceive. Aim to follow a healthy, balanced eating plan. Find out more about how your weight affects fertility in our Conception FAQs. If you have any concerns about your weight you should talk to your GP, who can advise you about your specific needs.
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Being fit and healthy is an advantage if you're thinking about starting or adding to your family.
Pregnancy puts a lot of strain on the body. If you have the correct balance of muscular strength and flexibility, you can cope more easily with its demands.
Being in good shape can also help you conceive in the first place. The body works more efficiently when you are fit, and having a toned body usually makes you feel more confident about yourself.
If you're looking to get in shape before getting pregnant, what better way than one of Tommy's running events? That way you can support our vital research work into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth into the bargain! Visit our Running events page to find out more.
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How active should you be?
The government recommends that everyone does 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week; this can include fast walking.
If you haven’t done much regular exercise before start with 15 minutes of continuous exercise three times a week.
Then you can increase that bit by bit to 30-minute sessions four times a week and then to daily exercise. The exercise should be enough to increase your heart and breathing rates, but you should still be able to have a conversation. You can continue to exercise while pregnant; the benefits outweigh any risks. Just listen to your body and don't overdo things.
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- If you continue to smoke while trying for a baby you can harm your chances of conceiving.
- Smoking can damage men’s sperm and lower the number and quality of their sperm.
- Smoking affects the lining of the womb and causes problems with implantation, increasing the risk of miscarriage.
- Smoking causes women to suffer from premature ovarian ageing – women who smoke have an earlier menopause by up to four years.
- Smokers require twice the number of IVF cycles to help them conceive than non-smokers.
- Smoking during pregnancy has serious effects on mother and baby.
Quitting now will make a big difference to your health before and during your pregnancy and once the baby is born. People who stop smoking find that they are happier and feel less stressed than those who carry on. Your clothes, house and breath will smell cleaner and fresher if you give up smoking.
The NHS, your GP or midwife can all help you give up and will put you in touch with experts who can advise you. Very often you will have a stop smoking expert who is able to come to your home or talk to you on the phone. See our Smoking section for more information on why and how you should give up.
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You don’t have to stop having fun now that you’re trying for a baby, but there are a few things you’ll have to give up or cut down on, and alcohol is one of them.
The safest level of alcohol to drink during pregnancy is inconclusive. Therefore the safest option is to avoid alcohol whilst trying to conceive or during the first trimester; ideally it is safest to not drink at all until after the birth. If you do choose to drink though, limit yourself to one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week, as this has not shown to be harmful. For more information, including how to get help cutting down on alcohol, see our Alcohol and pregnancy page.
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When conceiving you should also be aware of the following:
Coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks, soft drinks all contain caffeine. There's research to show that high levels of caffeine in pregnancy can lead to low birth weight and in some cases, miscarriage. You should limit your intake to 200mg a day (about two cups of instant coffee).
Herbal medicines and teas
Don’t assume all herbal products are safe to take during pregnancy. Regular fruit teas from the supermarket are fine but double check with a qualified herbalist if you want to take a different herbal product.
Many common medicines such as cough and cold remedies are not safe to take in pregnancy. If it’s not clear on the packaging then check with the pharmacist.
Don’t suddenly stop taking prescribed medicines. Make an appointment to see your doctor to discuss whether the drugs you are taking are safe to take when trying for a baby or during pregnancy.
Recreational and illegal drugs
When trying for a baby, you should give up illegal drugs completely. Drugs such as cannabis, especially when taken with tobacco, may increase your risk of miscarriage. If stopping or cutting down on drugs is likely to be difficult for you or your partner, consider getting some help. See our Drugs FAQ page for more information.
See our Conception FAQs for answers to common questions about diet, exercise and conception and smoking and conception.
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Also in this section
- Ashford KB, Hahn E, Hall L, Rayens MK, Noland M and Ferguson JE (2010) ‘The effects of prenatal secondhand smoke exposure on preterm birth and neonatal outcomes’ in J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs, 39(5):525-35, doi: 10.1111/j.1552-6909.2010.01169.x.
- Dechanet C, Anahory T, Mathieu Daude JC, Quantin X, Reyftmann L, Hamamah S, Hedon B (2010) ‘Effects of cigarette smoking on reproduction’ in Hum Reprod Update, 17(1):76-95
- NHS Choices (2011) The pregnancy care planner – Foods to avoid during pregnancy, at http://www.nhs.uk/planners/pregnancycareplanner/pages/carewithfood.aspx#Caffeine
- NICE (2006) Four commonly used methods to increase physical activity, NICE (National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence) Public health guideline PH2 at http://www.nice.org.uk/PH2
- Parrot AC (1995) ‘Smoking cessation leads to reduced stress, but why?’in Int J Addict, (11):1509-16
- Regan L and Rai R (2000) ‘Epidemiology and the medical causes of miscarriage’ in Baillieres Best Pract Res Clin Obstet Gynaecol, 14(5):839-54
- Silagy C et al. (2004) ‘Nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation’ in Cochrane Database Syst Rev, (3):CD000146