Planning for Pregnancy
For most women getting pregnant is not a difficult process but 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. 80-90% of women will be pregnant within 1 year of trying for a baby.
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.
Talk to your doctor about how your pregnancy might be affected if:
- you have 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.
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.
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If either you or your partner think you might have a STI it's worthwhile getting a STI check. 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 should have a cervical screening test if you have not had one in the last three years.
Rubella (German measles) infection in pregnancy can seriously damage the baby’s heart, eyes and ears.
All women born in the UK since 1970 would have been offered a vaccine against Rubella, most recently as part of the MMR vaccine.
If you are unsure if you have been vaccinated, please ask your GP who should have notes about this.
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 coil, 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.
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.
Severe food poisoning during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or damage to the developing baby. Pregnant women are advised to avoid foods that have a higher risk of causing food poisoning. The following foods can contain harmful bacteria. You should avoid them, and any foods made with them, if you are pregnant.
- Unpasteurised milk and cheese.
- Soft-cooked or raw eggs, for instance in homemade mayonnaise or mousse. Check food labels to make sure eggs are pasteurised.
- Soft cheeses with rind, such as Brie. You can eat cottage cheese and processed cheese spread.
- Blue cheeses, such as Stilton.
- Undercooked, uncooked or cured meat, including pâté.
- Shellfish, such as mussels, prawns and clams.
Other foods contain substances that can harm an unborn baby, and you should avoid eating them. These foods are:
- Vitamin A supplements (including cod liver oil). Liver (including liver pâté) also contains high levels of vitamin A.
- Fish such as swordfish, marlin and shark, which can contain high levels of mercury. You can eat tuna, but it contains some mercury, so don’t have more than two 140g tins of tuna a week.
- Peanuts or foods containing peanuts. If you, your partner or any of your children are allergic to peanuts or have severe allergies or asthma, avoid eating peanuts during pregnancy.
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 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.
Try to stop smoking. If you or your partner smoke it can reduce your fertility. Stopping smoking may be the most important thing you can do for your health and the health of your baby.
Women who smoke during pregnancy have a greater risk of:
- giving birth too early (premature birth)
- complications during and after pregnancy and labour
- having low birth weight babies. Babies who have low birth weight or are born prematurely are more likely to have health problems and are at higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS, or cot death).
Try not to start smoking again after you’ve had your baby. Babies whose parents smoke are more likely to suffer from coughs and chest infections, and are at higher risk of SIDS.
If you or your partner needs help, support or practical advice on giving up smoking, you can:
- go to your general practice – talk to your doctor, practice nurse or midwife
- ask your pharmacist
- contact 01856 888084 or 07500121900 smoking matters - NHS Orkney
- contact the NHS Pregnancy Smoking helpline (0800 169 9 169) or visit Smokefree
Many women ask how much is safe to drink during pregnancy. The safest approach is not to drink at all. If you do drink you should avoid getting drunk, and try to limit alcohol to the occasional drink and not more than one or two units once or twice a week.
Alcohol can damage sperm production, so men should cut down on drinking too. If a woman drinks heavily and frequently in pregnancy, or regularly binge drinks (has five or more units of alcohol on any one occasion), this can harm her baby’s development and health.
Heavy drinking can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). These describe a range of symptoms that can be caused by drinking alcohol in pregnancy, including damage to the facial features, brain, heart and kidneys, and learning difficulties and behavioural problems in later life.
Many pregnancies are unplanned. You may have had a one-off binge and then later discover that you conceived at or around this time. Many women worry that this might have caused harm to the baby. It is thought that a single episode of binge drinking is unlikely to be harmful to a woman or her baby.
If you or your partner find it difficult to cut down on alcohol, you can get help and support from:
- Your general practice – talk to your doctor, nurse or midwife.
- Drinkline, the national alcohol helpline (0800 917 8282).
- DrinkAware - a website that can help you count your units, and offers information on drinking in pregnancy and advice on cutting down.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite that can live in soil, raw meat and cat faeces. Infection with toxoplasmosis during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or damage to the baby’s eyes, ears or brain. To reduce the risk of infection, avoid changing cat litter (if you have to do it, wear gloves and wash your hands afterwards), wear gloves when gardening and wash all soil off fruit and vegetables. You should also wash your hands thoroughly after handling uncooked meat, and keep uncooked and cooked meat separate.
You should not have an x-ray while you are pregnant unless it is essential for your health. Tell your doctor and dentist if you are pregnant or trying for a baby.
Both you and your partner should start, or keep up, regular exercise when you are trying to get pregnant. If you don’t do any exercise, now is a good time to start. Regular exercise will improve your health and help reduce stress, but if you are not used to exercise, start off slowly. The more active and fit you are the easier it will be for you to cope comfortably with pregnancy.
Walking and swimming are good ways to start getting fit, and a yoga or Pilates class can help with relaxation and muscle tone. Whatever exercise you do, talk to your doctor or exercise instructor if you become pregnant, as you may need to adapt the exercise you do.
You should avoid exercise or sports where there is a risk of being hit in the abdomen, such as martial arts. You should take extra care during activities where there is a risk of falling or losing your balance, such as cycling and horse riding.
What you eat and how much you exercise affects your weight. Being overweight or underweight can disrupt your periods and reduce your chances of getting pregnant.
Plan travel cautiously if there is a possibility you are pregnant. Avoid long haul flights and travel to areas where there is a risk of malaria. If travel is unavoidable speak to your doctor or midwife.
For more information please visit the following sites:
Travelling when pregnant
Ready Steady Baby