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Planning for pregnancy

If you’re thinking of trying to have a baby, it’s worth considering a few things beforehand and maybe making some lifestyle adjustments. This can help to increase your chance of getting pregnant (conceiving) and having a healthy pregnancy.

Open our infographic about the stages of pregnancy.

By the time you know you're pregnant and seek health advice, you may be many weeks pregnant. And although it’s never too late to make changes, it's better to be prepared before you try to get pregnant.

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How your baby develops, stages of pregnancy by Bupa UK

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  • Stopping contraception Stopping contraception

    If you’re planning to get pregnant, you will need to stop the contraception you're using. If you use a barrier method, such as condoms or a diaphragm, you can become pregnant as soon as you stop using this. For other methods, your fertility levels and periods should return to normal in a short period of time. So your usual fertility should quickly come back when you:

    • stop taking the contraceptive pill
    • have a contraceptive implant removed
    • have an intra-uterine device (coil) removed, including one that releases hormones

    If you were using the contraceptive depot injection, your periods and fertility may take longer to return to normal. For some women, this can be up to a year.

    Getting pregnant very soon after stopping hormonal contraception won’t harm your baby.

  • When is the best time to conceive? When is the best time to conceive?

    Over eight out of 10 couples will conceive within one year of having regular, unprotected sex. The majority of other couples will do so within two years. Some couples try to time having sex with ovulation, which is when an egg is released from one of the woman’s ovaries. But try not to worry too much about this. You may end up feeling more stressed, which can affect your libido and potentially lead to difficulties conceiving. Regularly having sex every two to three days prevents the pressure and stress that can develop if you try to time it with ovulation.

    If you've been trying for a baby for a year without getting pregnant, go and see your GP with your partner. If you’re over 35 or you have infrequent or no periods, visit your GP sooner.

  • Healthy weight Healthy weight

    Before you try to conceive, aim to be a healthy weight as this will increase your chance of ovulation. A healthy body mass index (BMI) for adult women is between 19 and 25. See our BMI calculator to work out what your current, pre-pregnancy BMI is.

    If your BMI is over 29, you can improve your chance of ovulation by losing excess weight. It’s not a good idea to diet if you’re already pregnant. So that’s another important reason to take steps to lose excess weight before you start trying to conceive.

    If your BMI is under 19, you may find that you have irregular or no periods. This can indicate that you aren’t ovulating regularly. Try to increase your weight so it’s within the healthy range as it's likely to help regulate your ovulation and periods. This in turn will improve your chance of conceiving.

    For more information about reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, see our Related information section. Ask your GP for support if you need it.

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    With our GP services, we aim to give you an appointment the next day or sooner if it’s urgent. Find out more today.

  • Healthy eating Healthy eating

    If you eat a healthy diet before you get pregnant, your body will have adequate stores of vitamins and minerals. Aim to eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet that includes a variety of the following foods.

    • Plenty of fruit and vegetables (at least five portions a day), which can be fresh, frozen or tinned.
    • Starchy foods, which includes bread, pasta, rice and potatoes.
    • Protein, such as lean meat, fish, beans and lentils.
    • Plenty of fibre, which can be found in wholegrain bread, fruit and vegetables.
    • Dairy foods, such as milk, yogurt and cheese, which are good sources of calcium.

    Drink enough fluid every day but limit those that contain caffeine, such as coffee, energy drinks and other fizzy drinks. And try not to eat or drink too many foods that are high in sugar, salt or fat.

    Certain types of food can increase your risk of food poisoning caused by bacteria. As well as making you ill, these bacteria can cause serious problems in your baby. Other foods have risks associated with substances found in them. If you're planning to get pregnant, or are pregnant, don't eat:

    • soft, mould-ripened cheeses, such as Camembert and Brie
    • blue-veined cheeses, such as Stilton and Roquefort
    • pâtés (including vegetable pâté)
    • uncooked or undercooked ready-prepared meals
    • uncooked or cured meat, such as salami
    • raw shellfish, such as oysters
    • unpasteurised milk or cheeses
    • uncooked or lightly cooked eggs and egg products, such as soft-boiled eggs or home-made mayonnaise
    • liver or liver products and vitamin A supplements
    • fish that contain high levels of methylmercury, such as shark, swordfish and marlin
    • more than two medium size cans of tuna, or one fresh tuna steak per week

    Folic acid

    It's important to take 400µg (micrograms) daily of folic acid from the time you stop using contraception until week 12 of your pregnancy.

    Folic acid helps to reduce the risk of your baby having a neural tube defect (problem with their brain and nerves), such as spina bifida. You may need to take a higher dose of folic acid if a previous pregnancy was affected by a neural tube defect. You may also need to take a higher dose (up to 5mg (milligrams)) if you have a family history of a neural tube defect. If you take medicines for epilepsy, or have diabetes or sickle cell disease, you may also need to take a higher dose. Ask your GP for more information.

    Vitamin D

    Vitamin D is produced naturally by your body when your skin is exposed to sunlight. You can also get it from some foods, such as oily fish. However, the UK Department of Health recommends that all pregnant and breastfeeding women take a daily supplement of vitamin D to make sure that both you and your baby get enough. Your GP or midwife can give you more information about this.

  • What to stop before trying for a baby What to stop before trying for a baby

    Smoking

    If you smoke, stopping is one of the most important things to do when planning to get pregnant. If you or your partner smokes, it can reduce your fertility. And if you smoke during pregnancy, you’ll have a greater risk of:

    • miscarriage
    • stillbirth
    • giving birth too early (premature birth)
    • complications during and after pregnancy and labour
    • having a low birth weight baby

    If you or your partner need support or practical advice on stopping smoking, talk to your GP, practice nurse or midwife. You may be able to get help and advice from your pharmacist too.

    Alcohol

    Don't drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week if you're trying to get pregnant. And if you’re pregnant, the most recent guidance advises not drinking any alcohol at all during the first 12 weeks. Alcohol, even in small amounts, may harm your unborn baby. It can lead to problems including damage to their facial features, brain, heart and kidneys, as well as learning and behavioural problems in later life.

    If you do choose to drink alcohol, you can reduce the risk to your baby by limiting the amount you drink. Don't have more than two units of alcohol, once or twice a week and don’t binge drink. You can check your alcohol consumption using our alcohol calculator.

    Medicines

    If you take medicines for any reason, tell your GP that you’re planning to get pregnant because some may affect your developing baby.

    If you need to take a painkiller while you’re trying for a baby or once you’re pregnant, you’re best off taking paracetamol. However, if this doesn't work, you may take occasional, single doses of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen. These haven't been shown to have negative effects on conception or pregnancy, up to week 30.

    Some research has shown that from week 30 NSAIDs can cause pregnancy complications. So only take them if you’ve discussed it with your GP – it’s important to be aware of the risks and benefits before making a decision. If you do take NSAIDs, your baby’s development will need to be monitored more regularly than usual.

    If you buy any medicines from a pharmacy, always check if these are safe to take while trying for a baby, or when pregnant. This includes any herbal or complementary medicines as well. Generally it's best to take as few medicines as possible because not many are safe in pregnancy. Ask your GP, nurse, midwife or pharmacist for more information about specific medicines.

  • Hazards at work Hazards at work

    Depending on your job, you may be exposed to substances at work that could put your health or the health of your baby at risk. Chemicals, such as mercury and lead, or radioactive substances, such as X-rays, have the potential to harm your baby. Your physical working environment may also be more risky if you’re pregnant and you may need to avoid some activities that you’d usually do. For example, if you work at height, do heavy lifting, or are on your feet all day or work alone. Speak to whoever is responsible for health and safety in your workplace.

  • Issues to discuss with your GP Issues to discuss with your GP

    Existing medical conditions

    If you have any health conditions, speak to your GP before you start trying for a baby. If you take prescription medicines for any reason, you may need to alter the dose, type or gradually stop taking them while you're pregnant. However, don’t stop taking any prescribed medicines without seeking advice from your GP because this could put your health at risk.

    Certain health conditions can affect your chance of conceiving. See our frequently asked questions for more information. Your GP may refer you for further advice from an obstetrician (a doctor who specialises in pregnancy and childbirth) or a gynaecologist. A gynaecologist specialises in women's reproductive health.

    Genetic counselling

    If you or your partner have any hereditary conditions in your family, such as sickle cell anaemia or cystic fibrosis, tell your GP. Your GP may refer you for genetic testing to see if there is a risk of passing on an inherited condition to your baby.

    Immunisations

    Rubella (German measles) is a mild viral infection, commonly caught by young children. If you aren't immune, you could get infected while you're pregnant and this could lead to serious damage to your baby’s heart, eyes and ears. It's more likely to harm your baby if you get infected in the first eight to 10 weeks of your pregnancy.

    Once you’re vaccinated against rubella, immunity usually lasts for life. However, it’s important to find out before you conceive if you’re still immune. You can have a blood test to check. If you’re not immune to rubella, your GP will recommend you have a MMR vaccination. Once you’ve been vaccinated you still need to wait a month until you start trying to get pregnant.

    Another vaccination your GP may offer you if you’re planning to get pregnant is chickenpox. Only certain women need this – for example, if you’re a health professional and likely to come into direct contact with people with the infection. Ask your GP or occupational health department for more information if you think this applies to you.

    Your GP may also offer you the hepatitis B vaccine if you're at risk of catching it. This might be because you live or work with people who have hepatitis B.

  • Advice for fathers Advice for fathers

    Try to keep your BMI below 29 because if you’re overweight, it can affect your fertility. See our BMI calculator to work this out.

    Smoking can lower your sperm quality. If you quit smoking, it will increase the number of healthy sperm you can produce and give other health benefits. And once your baby is born, smoking will put them at risk of the effects of passive smoking.

    Too much alcohol can also damage sperm quality, so cutting down on drinking it will increase your chance of conceiving.

    Sperm production can be affected by high temperatures. If you’re trying for a baby, it may help to wear loose-fitting underwear and trousers to keep your testicles at a lower temperature. However, there isn't any scientific evidence to prove this.

  • FAQs FAQs

    How do I know when I am ovulating?

    Answer

    You're most fertile around the time of ovulation, which is when an egg is released from one of your ovaries. You can get to know when you're ovulating by keeping track of any changes to your vaginal secretions. These secretions vary in consistency throughout your menstrual cycle.

    Explanation

    The length of the menstrual cycle varies from woman to woman (from 21 to 35 days), but on average it's 28 days. However long your menstrual cycle is, you will usually ovulate around 14 days before you have your period.

    One menstrual cycle is the time from the first day of your period to the day before your next period starts. So, the first day of your period is also the first day of a new menstrual cycle.

    After you have your period, an egg grows and develops in one of your ovaries before it's released, which is known as ovulation. Once an egg is released, it travels from your ovaries through your fallopian tubes towards your womb (uterus). At the same time, your womb lining thickens. This is so that if the egg is fertilised by a sperm, your womb is ready to receive it and it can grow.  

    Sperm can survive in your body for up to seven days after you have sex. Therefore, you can still get pregnant if you have sex up to seven days before you ovulate. If the egg isn't fertilised, your womb lining breaks down, you have a period and a new menstrual cycle begins.

    At the beginning and end of your menstrual cycle, your vaginal secretions will usually be sticky and thick. Around ovulation when you’re most fertile, your vaginal secretions may become wetter, thinner and clearer with a texture like raw egg white (called 'fertile mucus').Your vagina and vulva will feel wet. By keeping track of these changes, you may be able to estimate when you’re ovulating. The best way to do this is to wipe your vulva with toilet paper every time you go to the toilet and look at the consistency of the secretions.

    You might also notice a dip in what’s known as your basal body temperature – this is your body temperature when you're at rest. If you have a slight rise in temperature for three consecutive days, it indicates that your fertile period has ended.

    Another way to identify when you’re ovulating is to use an ovulation predictor kit or monitoring device, which you can buy from a pharmacy. These detect your levels of certain hormones associated with your cycle.

    It can be difficult to measure when you're ovulating, so don't worry if you're unsure. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends having sex every two to three days as the best way to conceive. This is the same whether you're ovulating or not.

    Which medical conditions can affect my chances of conceiving?

    Answer

    A number of medical conditions can affect your fertility and chance of conceiving. Some of these conditions affect your reproductive organs, including your ovaries and fallopian tubes. Long-term conditions can affect your chance of conception and your likelihood of having a healthy pregnancy too. Sometimes the medicines you take for these conditions can affect fertility or your baby.

    Explanation

    Medical conditions can affect your reproductive organs and make it more difficult for a sperm to meet an egg and fertilise it. An example is endometriosis. This is a condition where cells that usually only line your womb (uterus) grow in other parts of your body. Your fallopian tubes can become blocked if these cells attach to or cause scarring in them. The egg can then no longer be fertilised or flow towards your womb for implantation.

    If you have polycystic ovary syndrome, it’s likely that you have a large number of small cysts on your ovaries. The cysts are eggs that didn’t develop fully for ovulation. This lack of regular ovulation makes it more difficult to conceive.

    Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea can damage your reproductive organs and affect sperm production in men. If you or your partner are concerned that you may have an STI, visit a sexual health clinic for tests and treatment. A complication of some STIs is that they lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women, which can cause infertility if left untreated.

    Certain medicines that are prescribed for long-term medical conditions can affect your fertility and pregnancy. Before you try for a baby, seek advice from your GP about any prescription medicines you take. Your dose may need to be changed, or you may need to be given a different type of medicine that is safer for use in pregnancy. Your GP may advise you to reduce or stop your medicines to protect your unborn baby. However, don’t stop taking any prescribed medicine unless your GP specifically tells you to. This could both put your health at risk and affect your baby.

    Will being overweight affect my pregnancy?

    Answer

    Yes, being overweight can lower your chance of conceiving. And if you do get pregnant, being overweight can increase the risk of complications during your pregnancy. It may also affect your child before he or she is born, during labour and in later life.

    Explanation

    If your body mass index (BMI) is 25 or over before you get pregnant, you’re considered to be overweight. See our BMI calculator to work out your BMI. The higher your BMI before you get pregnant, the greater your risk of complications during pregnancy, labour and birth.

    Complications that happen more often in overweight pregnant women include:

    • miscarriage
    • diabetes that begins in pregnancy (gestational diabetes)
    • high blood pressure in pregnancy that can lead to fits (pre-eclampsia)
    • a blood clot in a vein (venous thromboembolism)
    • needing to have a caesarean section
    • more risk of anaesthetic complications, if you need to have an epidural or other anaesthesia during your labour
    • wound infections

    Babies of overweight mothers are at increased risk of:

    • stillbirth
    • being born with a birth defect
    • being born prematurely
    • growing larger than would be expected for the length of pregnancy, which can cause complications during labour and birth
    • dying soon after being born

    Babies who are born to mothers who are overweight before and during pregnancy are more likely to become obese as they get older. They are also at a higher risk of developing conditions such as diabetes.

    You can reduce these risks by losing excess weight before you try to conceive. Make an effort to eat more healthily, keep an eye on portion sizes and keep up regular exercise before and during pregnancy. This will help you to lose excess weight. It's important to do this before you try to conceive because losing weight once you're pregnant isn’t advisable.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Sources

    • Pre-conception – advice and management. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published June 2012
    • Pre-pregnancy counselling. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, published 28 September 2013
    • Contraception – general overview. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, published 5 November 2012
    • Joint Formulary Committee. British National Formulary (online) London: BMJ Group and Pharmaceutical Press. www.medicinescomplete.com, accessed 27 May 2014
    • Female infertility. BMJ Clinical Evidence. www.clinicalevidence.bmj.com, published 11 November 2010
    • Fertility basics. Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority. www.hfea.gov.uk, published 1 June 2012
    • Fertility: assessment and treatment for people with fertility problems. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), February 2013. www.nice.org.uk
    • Infertility. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published April 2013
    • Weight management before, during and after pregnancy. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), July 2010. www.nice.org.uk
    • Why your weight matters during pregnancy and after birth. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. www.rcog.org.uk, published November 2011
    • Antenatal care. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), March 2008. www.nice.org.uk
    • Antenatal care. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, published 13 October 2012
    • Map of Medicine. Antenatal care. International View. London: Map of Medicine; 2014 (Issue 4)
    • The pregnancy book. Department of Health. www.dh.gov.uk, published 2009
    • Fetal alcohol syndrome. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk/patientplus.asp, published 12 August 2013
    • Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) in pregnancy. UK Teratology Information Service. www.uktis.org, published October 2008
    • FAQS. Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, published 27 May 2014
    • Rubella and pregnancy. PatientPlus. www.patient.co.uk, published 14 March 2012
    • Infertility. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 10 June 2013
    • Female reproductive endocrinology. The Merck Manuals. www.merckmanuals.com, published April 2013
    • Conception and prenatal development. The Merck Manuals. www.merckmanuals.com, published October 2013
    • Contraception – natural family planning. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published June 2012
    • Planning a pregnancy. FPA. www.fpa.org.uk, published 2010
    • Endometriosis. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 21 April 2014
    • Management of women with obesity in pregnancy. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. www.rcog.org.uk, published March 2010
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