It is never too soon to prepare for pregnancy – start as soon as you decide to try for a baby.
While many happy, healthy babies are the result of unplanned pregnancies, ideally you should prepare your body for the ordeal of pregnancy, birth and caring for a baby. The healthier you are, the better your chances of conceiving easily, and of having an uncomplicated pregnancy and a healthy baby.
Many women re-evaluate their health and lifestyle once they know they are pregnant. However, by the time a woman has missed her first period, she is already 2 weeks pregnant, so it’s best to prepare for a pregnancy before trying to conceive.
Here are some things to take into consideration when trying to fall pregnant:
Stop smoking and drinking alcohol
The first few weeks of pregnancy are a critical period of development for the baby; however most women don’t even know they are pregnant at this stage, so it is best to stop smoking and drinking alcohol as soon as you start trying for a baby.
Smoking has been associated with a reduction in insulin sensitivity, which may adversely affect you ability to fall pregnant. In fact, research has revealed that smokers generally take longer to conceive than non-smoking women.
Preparing for fatherhood
It is just as important for would-be dads to prepare for fatherhood. Stress, smoking, alcohol and substance abuse, obesity and exposure to environmental toxins can all affect male fertility. Plus, once baby is born it is not safe to be under the influence of alcohol when you are caring for a small baby and it is dangerous to expose a newborn to second-hand smoke.
Stop taking birth control pills
You can stop taking birth control pills 1-3 months before you plan to fall pregnant as their effects wear off quickly and you may ovulate during your next cycle.
It is useful to have at least one normal period before falling pregnant for the purpose of dating the pregnancy accurately. If you plan to wait a few months after going off the pill, use alternative methods of contraception.
Review any medication you are taking
Review any medication you are taking, including prescription, over-the-counter and alternative medicines.
Get a medical checkup
Visit your obstetrician for pre-pregnancy counselling and to get a clean bill of health. If there is a family history of hereditary health conditions or if you are over 35, talk to your doctor about genetic counselling.
It is most important to get good prenatal care if you suffer from any existing medical conditions or have had previous complications in pregnancy.
Make sure your vaccinations are up to date
Make sure your rubella (German measles) vaccination is up to date, as this condition can cause birth defects if you contract it in the first trimester.
Start taking 5mg of folic acid daily as it is known to drastically decrease the chance of neural tube defects in babies.
Some micronutrient deficiencies are associated with infertility and miscarriage. Of particular concern are deficiencies of vitamin B12, A, E and betacarotene.
Start taking calcium. Good dietary sources of calcium include soy products and fatty fish with bones, such as salmon and sardines. These fatty fishes also contain essential omega-3 fatty acids, which are very important for various functions in the body and highly beneficial in the brain and neurological development of the developing foetus.
Most of these things can be found in a multivitamin. Ask your doctor to recommend a good multivitamin for pregnant women and/or a multivitamin for both you and your partner while you are trying to conceive.
Eat a balanced diet
In addition, make sure you follow a balanced diet including wholegrain, slow-releasing carbohydrates, good-quality lean protein, low-fat dairy products, a moderate amount of monounsaturated fats and omega 3 fats, and at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per days, as well as plenty of fresh water. Also make sure you're getting enough iron and calcium.
Avoid refined carbohydrates like sugar and “bad” fats like fried foods and too much saturated fat from animal sources.
Are you overweight or underweight?
If you are overweight, you may find it difficult to conceive and will be at risk of high blood pressure and gestational diabetes if you do. Being underweight can also affect fertility and foetal health, so work towards a healthy weight before you try to fall pregnant.
Cut down on unsafe foods and drinks
If you plan to try for a baby right away, cut down on caffeine and avoid unsafe foods that could cause tummy upsets, such as unpasteurised dairy products, raw or undercooked meats and eggs, and common allergenic foods like nuts and shellfish.
Diets that contain large quantities of sugar can cause a condition called insulin resistance, a metabolic problem that is associated with infertility. Controlling your sugar consumption has the potential to improve your chances of being fertile.
Practice good hygiene
Good hygiene is very important as many diseases that may affect the baby are spread by dirty hands or utensils and droplet infection.
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after eating and going to the toilet or after touching your pets. Avoid coming into contact with cats and cat faeces for the first time if you haven't had cats as pets before, as you could contract toxoplasmosis which can cause birth defects.
Visit the dentist
Visit the dentist for a thorough check-up and take care of any dental health issues before you fall pregnant.
Get regular exercise
Pregnancy and labour are hard work, so if you are not getting regular exercise, now is the time to start! But don’t overdo it. Gentle, moderate exercise like swimming, walking or cycling for half-an-hour 3 times a week is all you need.
It is best not to start yoga or any strenuous sport or exercise that you have not done before. Consider a prenatal exercise programme that focuses on gentle stretching and cardiovascular fitness.
If you already have a regular exercise regimen it is safe to continue as long as you are sensible about it. Always tell any exercise practitioner that you are pregnant or trying to fall pregnant.
If you work in a potentially hazardous environment...
If you work in a potentially hazardous environment such as those that work with chemicals, X-rays, lead and anaesthetic gases, speak to your doctor and consult your employer about ways to avoid environmental toxins that could harm your baby or affect your fertility.