Pregnancy is an exciting time. Like any major undertaking in life, it requires planning. A little preparation can go a long way towards making the journey smooth and successful.
To improve your chances of conceiving and achieving safe, healthy pregnancy outcomes for both mother and child, here are 10 key things that you and your partner can do before you fall pregnant.
See your GP
Make an appointment to see your GP for a prenatal check-up.
Your GP will arrange blood tests to check your blood group and antibody status, and to exclude infections such as hepatitis B and C, rubella, syphilis and HIV, which can affect pregnancy. Check that your pap smear is up to date, and talk to you doctor about having a simple vaginal swab test to exclude the presence of sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia (which can go undiagnosed for years, and affect fertility). Make sure any existing medical conditions are optimally managed and check whether any regular medications you take are safe in pregnancy.
Start pregnancy vitamins
Start taking folic acid supplements. To decrease the risk of neural tube defects (e.g. spina bifida) in the baby, it is recommended women take 0.5mg of folate daily for three months before falling pregnant and for the first three months of pregnancy. Most women don’t need other vitamin supplements in pregnancy if they have a balanced and healthy diet (although pregnancy vitamins may improve your overall health and many also contain folate).
Have a healthy and balanced diet that includes plenty of leafy green vegetables (which contain high levels of folate).
Check your weight
Aim to maintain or achieve your ideal body weight. Being in the healthy weight range (BMI 18-25) makes pregnancy much safer for you and your baby. If you are overweight, even a small weight loss of just 5% can significantly improve fertility and your chances of conceiving.
Regular exercise is good for you. The health benefits of activities like swimming, tennis, and running are well-documented. But don’t overdo it — excessively strenuous exercise may impact on ovulation and fertility.
Smoking is not good for you or a baby. Women who smoke are more likely to have decreased fertility and increased risk of miscarriage. In pregnancy, smoking can adversely affect the growing baby and may contribute later to childhood illnesses. Research has also demonstrated that a child born to a male smoker is four times more likely to develop childhood cancer.
Reduce your alcohol intake
The normal recommended maximum daily intake for women is two standard drinks per day (and none when pregnant). For men, the recommendation is a maximum of four standard drinks per day, with excess alcohol intake known to adversely affect sperm production.
Moderate your caffeine intake
The reasons are not clear, but research has linked high caffeine intake to infertility. Moderate intake means two coffees per day. Remember that other foods, like chocolate and cola drinks, also contain caffeine.
Have regular sex
Intercourse two to three times per week during the fertile period is ideal. The fertile period is from Day 8 to Day 13 of a 28-day cycle.
Track your cycles
Take notice of your cycle and write it down. Remember, ovulation occurs 14 days before your period, not necessarily 14 days after your period starts. If your cycle is 28 days long you will ovulate on day 14. However, if your cycle is longer, your day of ovulation will be later. For example, if your period occurs every 30 days then you will ovulate on day 16. Track your cycles to identify your fertile period and take advantage of it!
And finally …
Try not to stress! Falling pregnant takes some time for most couples, so be patient and see your doctor if you do have any concerns.