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Why is it important to prepare for pregnancy?
Making your health a priority should always be the norm, regardless of whether you're trying to conceive or not. But we get it - sometimes life gets in the way. However, when you're preparing for pregnancy, it's important to be in the best possible health to improve your chances of getting pregnant and lower any pregnancy risks. In fact, it's so important, the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers preconception health care essential for all women of reproductive age, in case of any unplanned pregnancies.
Did you know? A 2018 survey by Tommy’s, including 750 participants, found that 67% plan for three or more months for a holiday, while just 20% plan that long for a pregnancy.
If you're thinking of trying for a baby, you should start preparing for pregnancy at least three months before you start actively trying. That's because it takes around 90 days for eggs to mature and ovulate, and for sperm to form. Here are 12 things you can do to get your body ready for conception:
1. Start tracking your menstrual cycles
Start tracking your menstrual cycle and any symptoms you experience over a period of a few months so that you can identify your fertile window and know when you have the best chance of getting pregnant. If you've been using certain forms of hormonal contraception, it could take some time for your cycles to return to normal and for you to start ovulating again.
2. Get a pre-pregnancy health check-up
Understanding where your health is currently at is vital when preparing for pregnancy. Some underlying health conditions can impact your chances of conception, your pregnancy risks or even the health of your baby. If you have a pre-existing health condition, we advise speaking to a healthcare professional in preparation for pregnancy. These can include:
- High blood pressure
- Thyroid issues
- Cardiovascular conditions
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Autoimmune condition
- Chronic conditions
- Genetic conditions such as cystic fibrosis, etc.
Additionally, not all medicines are safe to take when you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy. For example, supplements containing Vitamin A (retinol or cod liver oil), aren't recommended during pregnancy as it can negatively affect the health of your baby. That's why it's important to visit your doctor before trying to conceive and discuss any prescriptions, over the counter medication or supplements you're taking. They might recommend changing doses, switching to something different or stopping it. Please do not stop taking any medications without talking to your doctor.
If you've had complications in a previous pregnancy, it's important to bring this up with your doctor to plan a preconception health care path that would support a healthy pregnancy.
3. Check-in on your hormones
Your hormones regulate your menstrual cycle, fertility and also play a big role in important body functions, such as metabolism, sleep, development and overall mood. When preparing for pregnancy, it's crucial that your hormones are working in harmony, to give you the best possible chances of conceiving.
Hormonal imbalances such as those affecting the thyroid hormones, or androgen levels such as testosterone can negatively impact your menstrual cycle. If your hormones are out of whack, the process of ovulation can be disrupted, which is the key event for baby-making!
If you'd like to check in on your hormones and fertility, Hertility Health’s tailored at-home tests can give you clear insights into your egg count, menstrual cycle and help to highlight any red flags.
4. Get on top of routine screening
It's really important to make sure that your vaccinations and regular screenings, such as your cervical and sexual health screenings, are up-to-date when preparing your body for pregnancy.
Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia left untreated can cause difficulty conceiving. As many as one in four people contract an STI in their lifetime, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. However, being pregnant with untreated STIs such as bacterial vaginosis (BV) is known to cause poor health outcomes for the baby. STIs such as HIV and herpes can also be transmitted from the mother to baby if not treated.
If you think you or your partner might be at increased risk of contracting an STI, visit your GP to get tested and have appropriate treatment before trying to conceive.
5. Preconception nutrition
Eating a healthy and balanced diet is important to ensure you get all the necessary nutrients to support your body through pregnancy. Remember, you're preparing your body to undergo what is comparable to a nine-month marathon - so nourish it!
Excessive weight loss or weight gain during this time can impact your menstrual cycles and make ovulation irregular, which can make trying to get pregnant difficult.
Being a healthy weight will also help reduce any pregnancy risks, including increased risk of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, miscarriage, fetal growth restriction and low birth weight. If you’re struggling with reaching a healthy weight, talking with your doctor or a nutritionist can help determine your ideal weight goal and the steps you could take to achieve it.
Iron requirements during pregnancy increase because it's used by the body to make the extra blood that you and the baby. Blood loss during your periods or previous pregnancies can increase the risk of iron deficiency - anaemia especially if you are not getting enough through your diet. You should consider increasing your intake of iron-rich foods sources include liver, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, dried fruit such as apricots, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereals, yeast extract, and green leafy veg.
Here’s a little tip! To improve iron absorption - consume it with foods rich in vitamin C such as orange juice.
6. Keep it moving
Being physically active whilst preparing for and during pregnancy can reap benefits for your pregnancy and may even make delivery easier. But be careful not to overdo it. Excessive physical exercise can disrupt your menstrual cycle or bring a halt to it completely, (this is called hypothalamic amenorrhea) it can inevitably make trying to conceive more difficult.
Moderate physical exercise can help reduce the risk of certain health conditions that can cause pregnancy-related problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart conditions. And as an added bonus - it may also help you manage stress and improve sleep.
If you follow a vigorous workout routine, you should consider discussing it with your doctor to ensure it is advisable to continue with it during pregnancy.
7. Start taking your prenatal vitamins
When you're planning for a baby you should consider taking folic acid at least three months before you start trying. Folic acid, or folate, the natural form of folic acid found in food, is one of the B vitamins - vitamin B9. Folic acid reduces the risk of your baby having a neural tube defect, a condition where the baby’s brain and spinal cord does not form normally, which is seen in cases of spina bifida.
It is an essential daily prenatal vitamin supplement you should take when trying to conceive. The recommended dose is 400 micrograms every day before you get pregnant and every day afterwards, up until you're 12 weeks pregnant.
You can pick up folic acid supplements at your local pharmacy or ask your GP for a prescription.
Did you know? The UK government recently announced the mandatory fortification of non-wholemeal wheat flour with folic acid for this very reason.
If you live in the UK, you might be at increased risk of Vitamin D-deficiency due to the low levels of sunlight. A Vitamin D supplement is often recommended as part of your prenatal vitamin to ensure your bones and teeth stay healthy during pregnancy. Always consult your doctor before considering any supplements.
8. Curb those vices
It might seem like a given, but smoking, drinking alcohol and taking recreational drugs don't just impact your hormones and fertility when preparing for pregnancy, but also your baby’s health. On your pathway to parenthood, you should consider quitting them to ensure you and your baby are not at risk.
Smoking - The negative health effects of smoking come in abundance, one of which is its link to causing imbalances in key fertility hormones such as oestrogen. This can have a knock-on impact on your cycle. It is also associated with reduced levels of Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH), which is an indication of how many eggs you have left in your ovarian reserve.
If you find it challenging to quit smoking, NHS Smokefree offers free support and advice.
Alcohol - As much as that five o’clock glass of vino may be calling your name, alcohol consumption has also been linked to imbalances in hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen. Higher levels of alcohol consumption (>2 drinks per day) are best avoided when preparing for pregnancy.
Caffeine - There is conflicting data about the impact of caffeine consumption. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) states that moderate caffeine consumption of one to two cups of coffee per day before or during pregnancy does not have any apparent adverse effects on fertility or pregnancy outcomes. So no need to put the coffee down completely, but try to limit your consumption where possible.
9. Check-in on how you are feeling
Preparing for parenthood undoubtedly comes with its pressure and strains, and so it’s important to check in on your emotional well-being regularly because excessive stress can harm your fertility and overall health.
Everyone feels overwhelmed from time to time. But where possible, try and cut down on your stress levels or try self-help measures to cope with it. Ensure you’re practising some self-care to prioritise your mental health. These can include:
Finding whatever helps you unwind is essential at this stage in your fertility journey.
If you're struggling with handling your emotions and stress during your fertility journey, it can be helpful to talk a fertility counsellor who can help you express your emotions freely, make the right choices, and support you throughout your journey.
10. Check-in on your environment
There is increasing concern that exposure to environmental pollutants and toxicants could potentially impact fertility. It's important to check if the chemicals you use around the house or at work might affect your pregnancy or baby’s health. Some chemicals, including Bisphenol A (BPA), lead, mercury, and certain pesticides, solvents or harmful radiation, can impact fertility and even impact the health of the baby if you are exposed to high amounts whilst pregnant.
If you are exposed to such chemicals at work, you should speak to your management and avoid exposure before and during pregnancy.
11. Check-in on your oral health
Good oral hygiene is encouraged year-round, but if you’ve been putting off your trip to the dentist, now’s your time to give them a call. Apart from good oral hygiene being important to looking lovely in your selfies, it can also impact your baby’s health.
Poor oral hygiene and gum disease have been linked to an increased risk of pregnancy complications, including having an underweight and premature baby. It’s time to put the dental fears aside.
12. Check-in on your partner
If you’re starting your reproductive journey with a male partner, you must be both taking steps to improve your chances to conceive. Read the NHS guide to preconception health for men for more information.
How can Hertility help you prepare for pregnancy?
This article was written in collaboration with Hertility Health and was reviewed by Dr Tharni Vasavan Bsc (Hons), MSc, PhD.
If you’re planning your path to parenthood, Hertility is here to guide you. The Hertility Health journey includes a tailored at-home hormone test, fertility & gynaecology triage service, digital personalised results, access to highly-rated experts and clinics, educational content and a community of care. We’re here to support you throughout your reproductive journey, from menstruation to menopause.