If you are thinking about having a baby, making sure you are as fit and healthy as possible before the pregnancy can both improve the chances of getting pregnant and also reduce the chances of complications of pregnancy developing.
Particular steps you can take include:
Aim to have a healthy weight
Women who are overweight (BMI, body mass index over 30) are more likely to have difficulty conceiving and are also more likely to develop complications during pregnancy. Complications such as miscarriage, high blood pressure and diabetes are all more likely, as are difficulties during labour and delivery. If you are undergoing fertility treatment, this is less likely to be successful if you are overweight. It is therefore recommended that you maintain a healthy weight and pre-pregnancy you can use the BMI healthy weight calculator to work out what your ideal weight should be. If you are already pregnant, you should discuss this with your midwife or doctor.
Smoking is bad for everyone’s health, and can be particularly bad for women and their babies during pregnancy. Smoking increases the risks of complications during pregnancy, including miscarriage, poor growth of the baby and stillbirth. The best thing you can do for your own and your baby’s health is to stop smoking completely. For support, ask your GP, midwife or call one of the numbers below. The sooner you stop smoking, the quicker the risks are reduced. Smoke from other peoples cigarettes is also harmful, so all babies and children need their home to be kept completely smoke free.
For more information and support for you and your family to live smoke free:
- The Manchester Stop Smoking Service on (0161) 205 5998 or go to http://stopsmokingmanchester.co.uk
- The NHS Pregnancy smoking Helpline 0800 169 9169
If you are trying to conceive or are pregnant, you should avoid alcohol. Alcohol consumption in both you and your partner can reduce the chances of pregnancy. Whilst you are pregnant, alcohol you drink passes across to the baby and too much exposure can cause miscarriage and affect the baby’s development. If you choose to drink, protect your baby by only drinking one or two units of alcohol no more than twice a week and don’t get drunk. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) advises women who are pregnant to avoid alcohol in the first 12 weeks due to the risk of miscarriage.
Folic acid supplements
Folic acid is a vitamin and studies have shown that taking supplements reduces the risk of your baby having Spina Bifida. This is an abnormality where the brain and spine don’t form properly. Therefore you should take 400micrograms of folic acid every day for at least 3 months before conception and until at least the first 3 months of pregnancy. Don’t worry if you get pregnant unexpectedly. If this happens, just start taking the folic acid as soon as you find out. You can buy folic acid without a prescription from many supermarkets and pharmacies, or see your GP.
Some women with long standing medical problems are recommended to take a high dose of folic acid. This includes women with diabetes and epilepsy. These women need to take 5mg of folic acid daily via a prescription from their GP.
Current NICE guidelines suggest that you consider taking a vitamin D supplement of 400IU or 10mcg vitamin D every day. This is because most vitamin D comes from sunlight exposure, which is sometimes limited in the UK, especially during the winter months. Your doctor may suggest a higher dose.
Preventing infections and vaccinations
There are some infections that can harm your baby if you get them when you are pregnant. One of these is Rubella (German Measles). This infection can be prevented by having a vaccination more than 1 month before you are pregnant (not in pregnancy itself). Most women in the UK have already had this vaccination, known as ‘MMR’ and are immune. If you think that you may not be immune, you should discuss this with your GP who can check and arrange vaccination if necessary.
If you have a long term medical condition
If you have a long term medical condition, for example, epilepsy or diabetes, this can affect pregnancy and therefore some of the choices you make. It is important to make sure long term conditions are as well controlled as possible before attempting a pregnancy. We therefore provide pre-conception counselling to women through our specialist clinics. You should discuss your plans for pregnancy with your GP or hospital specialist. Your GP can refer you to our specialist clinics. If you are taking medication for a long term condition, do not stop it without discussing this with your doctor, even if you find yourself pregnant unexpectedly.