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Planning for pregnancy


Expert reviewer, Dr Samantha Wild, General Practitioner, Bupa UK
Next review due February 2022

If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, it’s important to plan ahead as much as you can. By leading a healthy lifestyle and managing any health problems, you and your partner can increase your chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy.

By the time you know you’re expecting a baby, you could already be many weeks pregnant. But it's better to plan ahead and learn about how to prepare for pregnancy before you try for a baby.

A happy couple outside

Stopping contraception

If you use a barrier method of contraception, such as condoms or a diaphragm, you can get pregnant as soon as you stop using it.

If you’re taking a combined contraceptive pill, ideally finish the pack you’re on. If you’re taking a progesterone-only pill, you can stop at any time.

If you have an IUD (intrauterine device), an IUS (intrauterine system), or a hormone implant you’ll need to have it taken out. Your fertility should return to its usual level a short time later.

If you’ve been having contraceptive injections, your periods and fertility can take longer to return to normal. For some women, this can be up to a year but this isn’t always the case.

When is the best time to conceive?

About eight in every 10 couples, where the woman is under 40, will conceive within a year of having regular sex. Of those who didn’t get pregnant in the first year, about half will get pregnant in the second year of trying.

Some couples try to time having sex with ovulation, which is when an egg is released from one of the ovaries. You can learn more about this in our Frequently asked questions. But try not to worry too much about this. You can end up feeling more stressed, and that can make you feel less like you want to have sex, and affect your chances of conceiving. Your best chance of getting pregnant is to have sex every two to three days throughout your cycle.

If you've been trying for a baby for a year and you haven’t become pregnant, go and see your GP with your partner. Your GP may offer you and your partner an assessment and investigations to see if there’s any reason why. As you get older for example, your fertility reduces, so your GP will take this into consideration.

Another point to consider in the timing of your pregnancy, is if you have other children. How long you wait until you have another child can affect the health of you and your baby. Research suggests that it’s best to wait 12 to 18 months between giving birth and becoming pregnant again. But this can depend on your individual circumstances – ask your GP for advice if you have other health issues.

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Healthy weight for pregnancy

When you plan to have a baby, it’s important to learn about how to prepare your body for pregnancy. If you’re overweight, it can affect both your health and the health of your developing baby. Being overweight or obese is linked to miscarriage, diabetes in pregnancy, blood pressure problems and development problems in your baby. If you’re a healthy weight, you’re less likely to have these problems, and you’re also more likely to get pregnant in the first place.

If you think you may be overweight, use our body mass index (BMI) calculator to work out if you’re about the right weight for your height. If you’re overweight, you can improve your chances of ovulating, and therefore getting pregnant, by losing weight. See Related information for tips and advice on losing weight. Your GP may refer you to a dietician for help and advice if you need extra support.

If you’re underweight pre pregnancy, it can also affect your pregnancy, and you may find it more difficult to get pregnant. Being underweight can sometimes stop you ovulating and your periods can stop completely. Putting on weight may help. Speak to your GP for advice if you’re struggling to gain weight through a balanced diet.

Healthy eating when pregnant

By eating the right foods, you can help to prepare your body for pregnancy. A healthy diet for men will also help sperm to be in the best condition to fertilise an egg. See Related information for advice about healthy eating.

If you eat or drink too much caffeine when you’re pregnant, it can potentially harm your baby. So, limit the amount you have each day to 200mg. This is equal to having roughly two mugs of instant coffee.

There’s no obligation for companies to disclose the amount of caffeine in their products unless caffeine has been added to food for its stimulant effect, or drinks have a high caffeine content (over 150mg/l). So, be aware of natural caffeine-containing products, like tea, coffee or chocolate and check the amount of caffeine in products that may have had caffeine added to them. This may include some baked goods, so called ‘energy’ drinks and fizzy drinks like cola. Caffeine content varies between products, but a 50g piece of dark chocolate (approximately a quarter of a large sharing bar) is thought to contain around 50mg of caffeine.

There are some foods that you shouldn’t eat while you’re trying to get pregnant. Certain foods can increase your risk of food poisoning and make you ill. The bacteria can cause serious health problems in your baby too. If you're planning to get pregnant, or are pregnant, don't eat:

  • uncooked meat, fish and eggs – always make sure that food is piping hot all the way through
  • pâté (meat, fish or vegetable)
  • unpasteurised milk or milk products
  • raw shellfish, such as prawns
  • unripened soft cheeses, such as Brie, Camembert or blue-veined cheese (like Stilton)
  • unwashed fruit and vegetables

Some foods also contain substances that can potentially be harmful for a developing baby such as:

  • liver or liver products
  • vitamin A supplements
  • fish that contain large amounts of mercury, such as shark, swordfish, tuna and marlin

Folic acid

It's important to start taking folic acid when you decide to try for a baby.

Most women take 400 micrograms (400mcg) a day for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This reduces the risk of your baby having a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida. You may need to take a bigger dose (5mg, milligrams) if you’re very overweight or have another health condition, such as diabetes. You may also need to take 5mg of folic acid if you take anti-epileptic medicines for epilepsy. The risk of abnormalities in your baby depends on the type, number and dose of medicines that you take (not having the condition itself). If you don’t take any medicines for epilepsy, the risk of your baby having any abnormalities is similar to women without epilepsy. If you have epilepsy, ask your doctor or midwife to explain your risk.

You might need a higher dose of folic acid if you’ve already had a child with a neural tube defect. Your GP or midwife will tell you if you need to do this.

Vitamin D

Your body produces vitamin D naturally when your skin is exposed to the sun. You can also get small amounts of it from your diet. If you’re not getting enough vitamin D, it can affect your baby’s growth. So, your GP or midwife will advise you to take 10mcg of vitamin D every day when you’re trying to get pregnant, and throughout your pregnancy. You can buy pregnancy supplements that contain the right amount of both folic acid and vitamin D from most pharmacies and supermarkets.

What to stop before trying for a baby

Smoking

If you or your partner smokes pre pregnancy, then quitting can help to increase your chances of getting pregnant. Smoking is linked to infertility in women and sperm quality problems in men. It’s best to stop smoking altogether if you’re planning to have a baby. If you do smoke when you’re pregnant, it can severely damage you, and your baby’s health.

If you or your partner needs support or advice on stopping smoking, talk to your pharmacist, practice nurse or GP.

Alcohol

Alcohol can harm your baby, and the more you drink, the greater the risks. It’s safest for your baby if you don’t drink alcohol at all while you’re trying to get pregnant and throughout your pregnancy.

Recreational drugs

If you’re taking drugs such as cocaine or cannabis, you should stop before you try to get pregnant. They can interfere with ovulation in women and reduce sperm count in men, which will make it hard to conceive. They can also cause serious health and development problems for your baby. If you need support about drug use, talk to your GP, or contact a local support group or service.

Medicines

If you’re taking any medicines, tell your GP that you’re planning to try for a baby. This includes herbal medicines. Some medicines can affect your chances of conceiving, as well as the development of your baby.

Generally, it's best to take as few medicines as possible when you’re trying to get pregnant. But don’t stop taking any prescribed medicines without advice from your GP, because this could put your health at risk.

Hazards at work

Some jobs can be risky if you’re trying to get pregnant. If you’re exposed to potentially harmful substances, such as chemicals or radioactive substances, get advice about your safety. Also do this if you’re likely to come into contact with either animals or people with infections. Speak to your employer or whoever is responsible for health and safety in your workplace.

Things to discuss with your GP

Any medical conditions

Some long-term health problems, such as epilepsy or diabetes, can affect both you, and your baby’s health. Mental health conditions, such as depression can affect your pregnancy too. If you have a health condition, speak to your GP before you start trying for a baby, to get the right pre pregnancy care.

Genetic counselling

If you or your partner has a health condition that runs in your family, such as Huntington's disease or cystic fibrosis, tell your GP. They may refer you for genetic testing and counselling, to see what the risk of passing the condition on to your baby is.

Immunisations

Check if you’ve had all the immunisations you need to have a healthy pregnancy and protect your baby. These include the following.

  • Rubella (German measles). If you aren't immune to rubella, and you catch it while you’re pregnant, it can cause some potentially serious problems for you and your baby. Check whether you’ve had the MMR vaccination. If you haven’t, wait at least a month after you’ve had it before you try to get pregnant.
  • Hepatitis B. If you’re likely to come into contact with hepatitis B; for example, if you’re a health professional, you should check whether you have immunity to it.

Another vaccination your GP may offer you if you’re planning to get pregnant is chickenpox. You won’t need it if you’ve already had chickenpox or shingles, though. 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.

Advice for men

Men need to be in the best of health to increase the chances of conception. For around one in five couples, problems with fertility in the men are the reason why they struggle to get pregnant.

To be in the best health possible and to have high-quality sperm you can do the following.

  • If you smoke, stop. Smoking can lower the quality of your sperm and your sperm count.
  • Be a healthy weight. If you’re very overweight, it can affect the number and quality of your sperm.
  • If you drink alcohol, stay within the recommended alcohol limits per week.
  • Keep your testicles as cool as possible as sperm production can be affected by high temperatures. So, it may help to wear loose fitting clothes and stay out of saunas and hot showers. There’s also some research that shows that resting laptops on testicles could reduce fertility.

Frequently asked questions

  • You're most likely to get pregnant just after you ovulate. Ovulation is when an egg is released from one of your ovaries. You can get to know when you're ovulating by keeping track of the changes to your vaginal mucus as this changes throughout your menstrual cycle.

    The average length of a menstrual cycle is 28 days, and you’ll usually ovulate around 14 days before you have your period.

    After you have sex, sperm can live in your vagina for around three days. If there are sperm there when you ovulate, or for up to 24 hours after, there’s a chance the egg could be fertilised.

    At the beginning and end of your menstrual cycle, your vaginal secretions will usually be sticky and thick. Around the time you ovulate, they become wetter, thinner and clearer with a texture a bit like raw egg white. By checking your vaginal mucus regularly, you may be able to tell when you’re ovulating.

    Some women also take their temperature regularly, as after you ovulate it goes up by a small amount (about 0.5 degrees). But this doesn’t tell you when you’re at your most fertile, so isn’t a very accurate way of predicting when you ovulate.

    Another way to tell when you’re ovulating is to use an ovulation predictor kit or monitoring device, which you can buy from a pharmacy. This measures a hormone in your urine which is there when you’re about to ovulate.

    It can be difficult to measure when you're ovulating, so don't worry if you're unsure. Having sex every two to three days is generally the best way to try and get pregnant.

  • Some health problems can affect your fertility and your chances of getting pregnant.

    For women, these include:


    For men, these include:

    • enlarged veins inside your scrotum called varicoceles
    • undescended testicle
    • not enough testosterone (hypogonadism)

    If you or your partner has any of these conditions, or if you’re at all worried about whether you can conceive, talk to your GP.



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  • Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Freelance Health Editor, February 2019
    Expert reviewer, Dr Samantha Wild, General Practitioner, Bupa UK
    Next review due February 2022

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