In this article
- Should I reach a healthy weight before trying for a baby?
- Should I stop smoking, drinking and taking drugs before trying for a baby?
- Should I see my GP before trying for a baby?
- What should I expect at a preconception care check-up?
- Should I have any medical tests before trying for a baby?
- Should I have any vaccinations before trying for a baby?
- Should I take any supplements while trying for a baby?
Not only will this increase your chances of getting pregnant (NHS 2014a), it will also set you up for a healthy pregnancy.
Should I reach a healthy weight before trying for a baby?It's a good idea. Being a healthy weight will improve your chances of conceiving. A healthy body mass index (BMI) is between about 19 and 25 (NHS 2014c).
If you're overweight, losing weight will reduce the risk of certain health problems for you and your baby, especially if your BMI is 30 or higher. It may improve your fertility too (NICE 2010).
Adopting a balanced diet and keeping fit now will also give you a great start to pregnancy.
If you're underweight, talk to your doctor about healthy ways to increase your BMI. You're more likely to have an irregular menstrual cycle if you have a low body weight. This can make it harder to conceive, particularly if you're missing periods.
Fortunately, in many cases, achieving a healthy weight will get your cycle back on track (NHS 2015a).
Should I stop smoking, drinking and taking drugs before trying for a baby?Yes. Smoking and drinking alcohol can both cause serious health problems for your baby if you do conceive. They also increase your risk of miscarriage (NICE 2012). And there isn't a single illegal drug that's definitely safe for pregnant women and their babies (NICE 2012).
When you become pregnant, you're unlikely to realise straight away. So it's well worth quitting these harmful substances now, and protecting your baby in those crucial first days and weeks.
Quitting smoking can be tough, but you're up to four times more likely to succeed with the right help (NHS 2014d). Your GP will be happy to refer you to your local stop smoking services, who will work with you to develop a tailored plan to help you quit. You can also visit the NHS Smokefree website or call their helpline on 0300 123 1044.
There hasn't been enough research for us to be sure whether vaping using e-cigarettes can make it harder for you to conceive. We do know that consuming nicotine alone, such as in patches and lozenges, is safer than smoking cigarettes. But we don't know what effects the other chemicals in e-cigarettes may have (PHE 2014). So to play it safe, it's best to try to quit smoking altogether.
When it comes to alcohol, the safest thing is to avoid it completely. There is no way to know how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy. However, we do know that the more you drink, the higher your baby's risk of long-term health problems (DH 2016). Again, if you feel you need help to give up, talk to your GP, who'll be happy to advise.
If you take any illegal drugs, be sure to tell your GP. She'll have seen it all before, so won't judge you. Instead, she'll refer you for some extra support, to help you give your baby a healthy start in life (NICE 2012).
Should I see my GP before trying for a baby?If you're fit and healthy, there's no reason to see your GP before trying. But if you have any concerns then paying a visit to your local surgery before you stop using contraception may be a good idea. Most surgeries provide a special check-up for couples who are trying for a baby, known as preconception care.
Your check-up won't necessarily be with your GP. You may see a midwife or a practice nurse instead. Some private health insurance companies also offer these kinds of checks.
However, it's important to see your GP if you have a long-running medical condition such as epilepsy, asthma or diabetes.
If you're taking any medication, you may need to make some changes to your treatment. This is because some types of medicine aren't safe to take when you're pregnant, and it may be several weeks before you know you've conceived. However, you should never stop taking any medication without discussing it with your doctor first.
If you're changing your treatment, your body may need time to adjust. So ideally, try to make an appointment with your doctor at least three months before you want to conceive.
Some over-the-counter medicines, such as ibuprofen, aren't safe in early pregnancy either (NHS 2014b). Ask a pharmacist if you're not sure what to buy.
What should I expect at a preconception care check-up?If you do decide to have a pre-pregnancy check-up, your GP or nurse will probably ask you about:
- whether your job involves working with hazardous substances
- whether you have any problems with your periods
- your general health and lifestyle
- how much exercise you do
- your emotional wellbeing
- your eating habits
Your doctor will also want to know about any existing health conditions you may have, such as:
- high blood pressure
- thyroid problems
- heart problems
- mental health issues (NICE 2012)
Other things you should discuss at your pre-pregnancy appointment include:
- Any genetic conditions in your family. Tell your GP if you have a family history of any hereditary conditions such as sickle cell disease, thalassaemia or cystic fibrosis, so she can arrange further support and advice (NICE 2012).
- Your contraception. In most cases, the contraception you've been using shouldn't affect how long it takes to conceive. But if you've been using the contraceptive injection, it may take up to one year after your last injection for your usual fertility to return (NICE 2012).
Your doctor may also ask about any terminations, miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies you've experienced. Talking about painful experiences such as these can be distressing. But your doctor needs to know what's happened in your past so she can ensure that you get the best care and advice now.
Should I have any medical tests before trying for a baby?You may need to, but it depends on your circumstances and general health. Ask your GP or practice nurse whether you need to have a test done before you become pregnant. Common tests and screening before pregnancy include:
Screening tests for STIs
If you've ever had unprotected sex (including oral sex), it's worth being tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), even if you don't have any symptoms (NHS 2015b). You should be screened for:
Your GP may be able to do these tests at your usual surgery, otherwise she'll refer you to a genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinic.
Having treatments for STIs before you conceive can greatly increase your odds of a successful pregnancy.
If you're due for a cervical screening (sometimes known as a smear test) within the next year, you may be able to have it before you conceive. This is because cervical screening isn't usually done during pregnancy, as the natural changes to your cervix make the results difficult to interpret (CKS 2007).
If you have a pre-pregnancy check-up, and your GP or nurse is concerned that you may be anaemic, she'll advise you to have a blood test. This is because women who are anaemic sometimes need to take extra iron supplements during pregnancy (NICE 2012).
Depending on your ethnic background and medical history, you may also need a test for genetic disorders such as sickle cell disease and thalassaemia (NICE 2012). This test will tell you how likely it is that you'll pass the condition on to your baby (NICE 2012).
If you're not sure whether or not you're immune to rubella, you may be offered a blood test to check for sure (NICE 2012).
Should I have any vaccinations before trying for a baby?Many preventable infections can cause miscarriage or birth defects, so make sure your vaccinations are up to date.
If you're not sure what vaccinations you have already had, your local surgery can check in your medical records. A practice nurse can also take a blood test to find out whether you've been vaccinated against certain diseases, such as rubella (NHS 2015c).
If you need to be vaccinated with a live viral vaccine, as for rubella, you should wait one month after the vaccination before trying to conceive (NHS 2015c). This is a precaution, as it's thought that your body needs time to get rid of the injected virus. Speak to your practice nurse if you have any worries.
If you're in a high risk group for hepatitis B, you can choose to be vaccinated against that disease as well. If this is the only vaccination you have, you'll be able to start trying straight away.
Should I take any supplements while trying for a baby?As soon as you decide to try for a baby, start taking a daily supplement containing 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid. Taking folic acid has been found to greatly reduce the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida (NICE 2012).
It's particularly important to have enough folic acid in the early weeks of pregnancy. This is when your unborn baby's brain and nervous system are first developing. You may not even realise you're pregnant at this point, which is why you should start taking folic acid as soon as you start trying.
You can buy folic acid supplements from pharmacies. If you choose to take folic acid as part of a multivitamin, make sure it's suitable for pregnant women and doesn't contain vitamin A. Too much vitamin A could harm your baby if you conceive while taking it (NHS 2015d).
Some people need a bit more folic acid than others. Speak to your GP about getting a prescription for a 5mg (5000mcg) supplement if you:
- have a family history of neural tube defects, or your partner does
- have previously conceived a baby with a neural tube defect
- have diabetes
- have coeliac disease
- take medicine for epilepsy
- have a BMI over 30 (NICE 2012)
Like all adults, you'll also need a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D (NHS 2015d).
While you're thinking about how to get ready for this exciting journey, find out which lifestyle changes you may want to consider, too.
Last reviewed: October 2015
Next review: October 2018
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