Your chances of becoming pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy and baby are better if you and your partner are as fit and healthy as possible. What you eat, how much you exercise, and whether you smoke or drink alcohol are all important factors to look at once you have decided to try for a baby. If you are concerned about your sexual health you can have checks to make sure you don't have a sexually transmitted infection.
Before you get pregnant
Before you try for a baby there are some things to consider that can help improve your chances of getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy. Your doctor, nurse or midwife will be able to advise you on pre-pregnancy and pregnancy healthcare.
Talk to your doctor about how your pregnancy might be affected if:
you have any medical condition such as diabetes or epilepsy
you have a history of heart or circulatory problems, such as high blood pressure or thrombosis (blood clots)
you or your partner have any hereditary conditions in the family such as sickle cell anaemia, thalassaemia, cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy
you have gynaecological problems, such as endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or have had an ectopic pregnancy (when the fertilised egg implants outside the uterus (womb), often in the fallopian tube).
Your doctor can also talk to you about genetic counselling if you or your partner have an inherited condition.
If you or your partner have disabilities which may make it harder for you to get pregnant, you may need specialist help. Your doctor will be able to refer you to a specialist.
If you have a disability and you become pregnant, it is important that you speak to your doctor as soon as possible. If you are being seen by a consultant for your disability you may require specialist advice. You can also request that your maternity care is carried out at the same hospital where your consultant is based. Ask your doctor about this.
For more information on pregnancy and planning a pregnancy if you have a disability, contact Disability Pregnancy and Parenthood international (DPPi) (tel: 0800 018 4730, textphone: 0800 018 9949, www.dppi.org.uk).
Medicines and drugs
If you take medicines for any reason tell your doctor that you are planning to get pregnant as some drugs may affect the developing baby. Don’t stop any medication you are taking for a medical condition until you talk with your doctor, as this may affect your health.
If you buy any medicines from the pharmacy, always check with the pharmacist to see if these are safe to take while trying for a baby or when pregnant. Avoid any treatment which is not essential. You should also check that any herbal or alternative remedies or complementary therapies are safe to use during pregnancy, or while trying to get pregnant. Ask your doctor, nurse, midwife or pharmacist.
Recreational (illegal) drugs, also known as street drugs, can affect the developing baby. Avoid taking them when you are trying to get pregnant or once you are pregnant. Your partner should avoid using them too as they can affect sperm.
For information on recreational drugs and where to go for help and advice contact Frank (tel: 0800 776600; www.talktofrank.com).
If either you or your partner think you might have a sexually transmitted infection, or be at risk of getting an infection, you can get confidential advice and help from a genitourinary medicine (GUM) or sexual health clinic or your general practice. Some sexually transmitted infections can affect your chances of getting pregnant, and if not treated they can be passed on to your baby during pregnancy or birth.
You may be offered a cervical screening test if you have not had one in the last five years.
If you or your partner have a sexual problem, a counsellor who is specially trained in this area may be able to help you. Talk to your doctor, nurse or midwife, or contact Relate (see below, Find out more about pregnancy and planning a pregnancy).
It is very important to have a rubella (German measles) test before you try to get pregnant as infection when you are pregnant can harm your baby, particularly in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Rubella infection can seriously damage the baby’s heart, eyes and ears.
If you have had a rubella vaccination, or the infection itself, you will probably be immune (protected against the infection) for life, but it is important to check before you become pregnant. Your doctor can do this with a blood test. If you are not immune, your doctor or nurse will vaccinate you. You should have this injection at least one month before you start trying to get pregnant.
Once you decide to plan a pregnancy, you will need to think about stopping the contraception you have been using. Many women worry that some methods of contraception, such as the pill, injection or IUD, will make it difficult to get pregnant when they stop using them. No method of reversible contraception causes infertility.
When you stop using contraception your periods and fertility will return to normal. Sometimes ovulation (releasing an egg) can be delayed or be irregular for a short time after stopping hormonal contraception. If you use the contraceptive injection, your periods and fertility may take longer to return to normal than after other methods of contraception.
Don’t worry if you get pregnant very soon after stopping hormonal contraception, this will not harm the baby.
To find out more information about stopping any method of contraception, you can contact:
FPA (Helpline: 0845 122 8690; see How to get help with your sexual health)
your general practice – ask your doctor or practice nurse
a contraception clinic
a young people’s service (there will be an upper age limit).
Think about what you eat. Eating a variety of foods, with as much fresh food as possible, helps to ensure that you get all the vitamins and minerals you need. A healthy diet is made up of:
starchy foods, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, bread, pasta, rice and cereals
at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day (these can be fresh, dried, frozen, tinned or juiced)
protein foods, such as meat, beans, chicken, eggs, pulses (for example, lentils), and nuts
dairy foods, such as milk, yoghurt and cheese
See below section, Preparing for pregnancy - Foods to avoid for advice on peanuts, cheese and fish.
Medical advice for all women planning a pregnancy is to take a daily supplement of folic acid. You should take 0.4mg (400 micrograms) of folic acid from the time you stop contraception, or as soon as you find out you are pregnant, until week 12 of pregnancy.
Folic acid is a member of the vitamin B family and is needed for a baby’s development in the early weeks of pregnancy. It helps to prevent serious abnormalities of the brain and nerves (such as spina bifida). You can buy folic acid from the pharmacy or you may be given this on prescription from your doctor.
If you have had a previous pregnancy affected by spina bifida, or you or your partner have a neural tube defect, or you suffer from epilepsy or diabetes, you should take a higher dose of folic acid. Your doctor will advise you.
As well as taking a supplement, you can eat foods that contain folic acid, such as green leafy vegetables, and breads and cereals with added folic acid.