There are things you can do now before you try for a baby that will affect your fertility and the health of your baby.
Your health before pregnancy will affect the lifelong health of your baby. By following the advice below you can:
- improve your fertility
- protect your baby’s future health
- bring down your risk of problems in pregnancy.
Once you start trying for a baby (have stopped contraception) you won't know you're pregnant for the first few weeks.
So, if you're trying for a baby, making these changes sooner rather than later will give you peace of mind when you get pregnant.
These are the things to do before pregnancy to make your pregnancy and baby healthier.
- If you smoke, quit smoking or cut down
- If you drink alcohol, stop or cut down
- If you take drugs, stop
- Start taking folic acid now, it needs time to build up in your body
- Have a healthy balanced diet – it improves fertility as well as affecting your baby’s future health
- Cut down on caffeine if you drink a lot
- Try to get closer to a healthy weight if you are overweight.
- Become more active if you are not already – this has been shown to improve fertility and will make your pregnancy and baby healthier
- Have a cervical screening test if you haven’t had one in the last three years
- Check that you have had the MMR vaccine against rubella
- Don’t take any new medication or stop taking existing medications without talking to your GP or healthcare professional
- Get tested for STIs if you think there’s a possibility you may have one
1. Get help to stop smoking
Smoking affects fertility (the ability to get pregnant) in men and women. If you stop smoking now it will improve your chances of conceiving. Smoking has also been shown to damage the DNA of your baby. During pregnancy smoking is the biggest risk factor for serious complications in pregnancy that you can change.
2. Start taking folic acid now
Folic acid needs to build up in your body to provide maximum protection for your baby against neural tube defects. Many women conceive within one month of trying so it is ideal to start taking folic acid two months before you stop contraception. If you have already stopped contraception, start taking a 400mcg folic acid supplement daily until you are 12 weeks pregnant.
Some women may be prescribed 5mg of folic acid.
3. Eat well
You can improve your fertility by eating a healthy, balanced diet. The best foods include wholegrain, unsaturated fats and vegetable proteins such as lentils and beans.
Your diet before and during pregnancy will also affect your baby’s development in the womb and their health in the future. A healthy diet for pregnancy is the same as a healthy diet for life.
A dietitian can help if you have a condition that requires specific diets or nutritional requirements, such as diabetes.
4. Reduce your caffeine intake
Research shows that consuming too much caffeine while you are trying to conceive can increase the risk of miscarriage. The research shows that this applies to both women and men. Too much caffeine in pregnancy has also been shown to be harmful to the developing baby.
5. Try to maintain a healthy weight
Your BMI (Body Mass Index) is a measure that uses your height and weight to work out if your weight is healthy. The ideal BMI before conception is between 18.5 and 24.9.
Having a high BMI (over 25) can reduce your fertility and increases the risk of complications in pregnancy. Being overweight can also contribute to fertility problems in men (links to dad’s health).
If you have a very high BMI (over 30) you may feel like it is an impossible task to reach the healthy range and you may have been struggling with your weight your whole life. Try not to lose heart, bringing your BMI a few points down the scale can make a big difference.There is professional support available if you need it.
If your BMI is in the underweight range (18.5 or less) it may affect your fertility and cause health problems during pregnancy. It may help to put on weight gradually with a healthy diet. There are many reasons why a person may be underweight. You GP can give you help and advice.
6. Stay active
Being active by doing regular, moderate exercise before and after you conceive will help your fertility as well as benefiting your pregnancy and baby in the long term. Women who are physically active are more likely to have children who are physically active too.
The Department of Health recommends:
- at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week and
- strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles
7. Stop drinking alcohol
Excessive or binge drinking is defined as regular consumption (drinking) of alcohol above recommended levels. Excessive drinking is linked to reduced fertility in both men (link to dad’s health) and women.
Drinking alcohol in pregnancy increases the risk of complications. This is especially true during the first three months of pregnancy as this is when the baby’s brain is developing. You will not know when you are pregnant and that’s why the recommendation is that the safest thing to do is not drink any alcohol at all if you’re actively trying for a baby. It can be very difficult for some people to stop drinking alcohol. There are advice and treatment services available if you need support.
8. Don’t take non-prescription, recreational drugs
Non-prescription, recreational drugs, such as cannabis or cocaine can contriibute to fertility problems for men and women. Illegal drugs can also cause serious complications in pregnancy. It can be very difficult for some people to stop taking drugs. There are advice and treatment services available if you need support.
9. Have a cervical screening test
If you are aged between 25 and 49 you should have a cervical screening test every three years. It’s best to get tested before you get pregnant because pregnancy can make the results of your test harder to interpret.
If you’re planning a pregnancy contact your GP surgery to find out if your screening is due now or within the next year.
10. Check you have had your MMR vaccination
MMR stands for Measles, Mumps, Rubella. Rubella is rare, but can be very dangerous to a baby’s development, especially during the early stages of pregnancy.
The MMR vaccination will protect you and your baby. It is normally given to children in two injections before they reach 6 years of age.
If you have not been vaccinated or are unsure whether you have been vaccinated call your GP practice to see if they have a record. If you have no record of them, make an appointment to get vaccinated. Even if you had them before getting them again is not harmful.
11. Have a sexual health check-up if there’s a reason to believe you may have an STI
Sexually transmitted infections can affect your fertility, as well as any future pregnancy and baby.
If there is any reason to think you or your reproductive partner may have a STI, it’s important that you both get tested. The best places to go are a GUM clinic, sexual health clinic, your own doctor or a young people’s clinic.
12. Talk to your doctor about any pre-existing conditions, any medications you are taking or previous pregnancy complications
Talk to your GP or specialist healthcare professional if you are planning to conceive and have any known, long-term medical conditions for which you take medication, such as epilepsy, diabetes, asthma or mental health conditions.
It is important not to stop taking medication before talking to a doctor or specialist about your plans to conceive. They will talk you through the safest choices during pregnancy with you.