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.
What to do
These are the things to do before pregnancy 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 without checking that it’s OK for pregnancy
- Don’t stop taking existing medication without talking to your GP or healthcare professional
- Get tested for STIs if you think there’s a possibility you may have one
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Don’t take non-prescription, recreational drugs
Non-prescription, recreational drugs, such as cannabis or cocaine can contriibute to fertility problems for men (link to dad’s health) 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.
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.
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.
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.
Talk to your doctor about any pre-existing conditions 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.
Some conditions and the medications used to treat them may impact on your ability to get pregnant. There may also be some risks associated with your condition or the medication used to treat them and pregnancy.
It is important not to stop taking medication before talking to a doctor or specialist about your plans to conceive. They will discuss the safest options for pregnancy with you.
1. British Medical Associated (2014) Smoking and reproductive life; The impact of smoking on sexual, reproductive and child health, page 13
2. Clinical Knowledge Summaries (Aug 2017) Pre-conception advice and management https://cks.nice.org.uk/pre-conception-advice-and-management
3. Sue Macdonald, Gail Johnson, Mayes’ Midwifery. (Edinburgh: Baillir̈e Tindall Elsevier, 2017), p 312.
4. Fontana R and Della Toore S, The Deep Correlation between Energy Metabolism and Reproduction: A view on the effects of Nutrition for women fertility, Nutrients. 2016 Feb 11;8(2):87. doi: 10.3390/nu8020087 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26875986
5. Buck Louis, GM, et al, Lifestyle and pregnancy loss in a contemporary cohort of women recruited before conception: The LIFE Study, Fertility and Sterility www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(16)30042-5/fulltext
6. Food Standards Agency Food additives (updates 9/01/2018) www.food.gov.uk/science/additives/energydrinks
7. NHS Choices (accessed 01/05/2018) How can I improve my chances of becoming a dad?, Page last reviewed: 24/07/2017 Next review due: 24/07/2020 https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/1909.aspx?CategoryID=61&SubCategoryID=613
8. Sue Macdonald and Gail Johnson Mayes’ Midwifery (Edinburgh: Baillir̈e Tindall Elsevier, 2017), p 267
9. NICE Guidelines (2010) Weight management before, during and after pregnancy, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
10. Cleland V, Granados A, Crawford D, Winzenberg T, Ball K. Effectiveness of interventions to promote physical activity among socioeconomically disadvantaged women: a systematic review and meta‐analysis. Obesity Reviews. 2013;14(3):197-212.
11. Clinical Knowledge Summaries (Feb 2018) Alcohol – problem drinking https://cks.nice.org.uk/alcohol-problem-drinking
12. NICE Guideline (2013) Fertility problems: assessment and treatment National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
13. NHS Choices (accessed 01/05/2018) Drinking alcohol while pregnant Page last reviewed: 14/01/2017 Next review due: 14/01/2017 https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/alcohol-medicines-drugs-pregnant/
14. The Royal College of obstetricians and gynaecologists (2018) Alcohol and pregnancy https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/patients/patient-leaflets/alcohol-and-pregnancy/
15. NHS Choices (accessed 01/04/2017) Can I have a cervical screening test during pregnancy? Page last reviewed: 20/04/2015 Next review due: 30/04/2018 www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/1646.aspx?CategoryID=69&SubCategoryID=697
16. NHS and Public Health England Thinking of getting pregnant? Make sure you’re protected against German measles https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/675204/Thinking_of_getting_pregnant_GermanMeasles_A5booklet_2018.pdf
17. NICE (2015) Diabetes in pregnancy: management of diabetes and its complications from preconception to the postnatal period, NICE guideline, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
ℹLast reviewed on June 13th, 2017. Next review date June 13th, 2020.
By Martha (not verified) on 15 Mar 2018 - 23:01
Hi i had sex around my ovulation period for 2 cycles and i am still not pregnant. What would you advise.
By Midwife @Tommys on 16 Mar 2018 - 15:57
Thank you for your comment. I would advise that you keep trying; it may be an idea to use an ovulation predictor if you are not already using one.
It's also recommended to have regular sex throughout your cycle not just around ovulation as this is the best way to increase your chances of conception.
Also make sure you have a healthy diet, continue to exercise, stop smoking and drinking alcohol, limit caffeine intake, take folic acid supplements(400mcg a day) and maintain a healthy weight.
It may take a while to conceive but 80% of couples will do so within a year.
I have attached some links that you may find helpful
By Tanya (not verified) on 2 Feb 2018 - 20:18
Hi am 11 weeks and 5 days pregnant today when did my baby conceive please x
By Midwife @Tommys on 5 Feb 2018 - 10:00
Hi, Conception would be approximately between the 24th November and 3rd December 2017.
By Kate parrick (not verified) on 23 Jan 2018 - 21:14
I was exposed to a toxic chemical called Environtex Lite Pour On. Will this effect my fertility? I have been trying to conceive for 9 months and I had a miscarriage at 6 weeks back in October 2017
By Midwife @Tommys on 24 Jan 2018 - 14:31
Hi, Thank you for your comment.
We will be able to answer your questions in a bit more detail if you can send us an email with a few more details about your exposure and past medical history then we will be able to give more accurate advice. Please email the Tommy's Midwives on [email protected] . Many Thanks, Tommy's Midwives x
By Anonymous (not verified) on 26 Oct 2017 - 12:47
Hiya me and May partner have been trying to get pregnant just over a year now. I had an exctopic pregnancy a couple of years ago and I was worried about any damage it may have caused. I was told I am ovulating just fine still and to try not to worry too much. Have u any advice at all that may help me please
By Midwife @Tommys on 26 Oct 2017 - 15:25
Hi, Thank you for your comment.
Please feel reassured that it can take some couples up to a year to conceive but with your past medical history, it is understandable that you are feeling worried. As you have been trying to conceive for over a year it would be advisable that you and your partner make an appointment and speak to your GP, they will be able to offer your advice on what to do next, they may offer you tests or even make a referral to a specialist if this is needed. Please try not to worry, this can be normal for some couples but seeing the GP will help. Take Care, Tommy's Midwives x
By Anonymous (not verified) on 4 Oct 2017 - 03:46
myself and my husband being try for baby for about 7mouths now and we just want to no if we are doing it at the right time
By Midwife @Tommys on 4 Oct 2017 - 11:36
Hi, Thankyou for your comment.
It can be normal for it to take a few months to conceive when you have just started trying, this doesn't mean that there is anything wrong, it can just take some time. If you have a regular cycle and your periods are regular then on average a women would ovulate around day 14 of this cycle, so 14 days after the first day of your last period. If you want to work out these dates, we do have an ovulation calculator on the Tommy's website, where you can put the date of your period in and then it will tell you when you should be ovulating. Having sex around this time can optimise your success of conception, but also having unprotected sex throughout your cycle can help as well. If you are still not getting pregnant then then next step would be to see the GP who may refer you to a specialist for help and advice, this is nothing to be concerned about, it is just what we recommend after months of trying for a baby. Hope this helps, Tommy's Midwives x