Preparing for Pregnancy?
Preparing for pregnancy before getting pregnant is vitally important but sadly all too often it simply doesn't happen. Many women are already two weeks pregnant by the time a missed period confirms it. However, by preparing for pregnancy in advance and making some simple lifestyle and dietary changes, you can give yourself the very best chance of having a successful pregnancy and a healthy baby.
Before getting pregnant think about whether there are any hereditary medical or family conditions that need to be considered. If there are, then you may need genetic counselling to make you aware of any potential risks to your baby. Also consider whether you or your partner are taking any medications that may be dangerous for a developing baby.
Ensure your Rubella vaccinations are up to date as Rubella can cause foetal abnormalities if contracted during pregnancy. If you do require a Rubella vaccination you should avoid getting pregnant for at least one month afterwards.
If you have been using any form of contraception you will obviously need to stop! With condoms and the diaphragm you simply need to cease using them and start trying for your baby. If you have been taking the contraceptive pill there may be a slight delay before fertility returns. Although some studies show women can be more fertile immediately after they stop. However, some doctors recommend you have at least a couple of pill free months so that your cycle regulates itself as this can make it easier to determine when any resulting baby may be due!
With the contraceptive injection it can take up to nine months for the effects to wear off so it may take longer to get pregnant!
You are most likely to conceive if you have intercourse around 5 days before you ovulate. And many doctors advise having sex 2-3 times a week throughout your cycle to stand the best chance of conception.
Your partner should also consider wearing loose fitting cotton underwear as heat can affect the quality of sperm.
Both potential mums and dads should take extra care of their diet and lifestyle when they are considering having a baby.
If either or both of you smoke or drink, you should ideally cease altogether or at the very least cut down drastically.
Nicotine depletes the supply of oxygen in the blood that nourishes the developing baby. Smoking also increases the risk of stillbirth, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and cancer. It also makes you twice as likely to have an ectopic pregnancy whereby the baby develops outside the womb. This normally results in the death of the foetus and a burst or scarred fallopian tube, making subsequent pregnancies more difficult. It can also cause serious internal bleeding which can be fatal if not treated promptly.
Alcohol can damage the developing baby as it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. If the baby is frequently exposed to alcohol it can lead Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. This condition can be recognised by mental retardation and facial abnormalities.
There is no safe level of drinking in pregnancy so you should avoid alcohol altogether, particularly in the first twelve weeks when important organs such as the brain and heart are forming.
Improve your diet. It is important to build up a good store of vitamins and minerals before you get pregnant and if you intend to breastfeed your baby. A balanced diet should include protein-rich foods, dairy produce, carbohydrates and fruit and vegetables. Avoid eating lots of sugary, salty or fatty foods.
Vegetarian diets are fine as long as a plentiful iron supply is maintained. However, vegans should discuss their diets with a qualified nutritionist or their GP as they may require some extra supplements.
Even if you are not yet pregnant you still risk high blood pressure and diabetes if you are overweight. Obesity has also been associated with birth defects and can make high blood pressure worse. Lose excess weight carefully by following a calorie-controlled diet and exercising regularly, not by taking appetite suppressants.
Find out your ideal pre-pregnancy weight and work towards achieving this before getting pregnant. You will also be more likely to get pregnant if you are the correct weight.
Conversely, if you are underweight you may be less fertile and so have problems conceiving.
When you are pregnant you should avoid dieting as you risk iron deficiency and low levels of folic acid, vital vitamins and minerals - all of which can be detrimental to the health of both mother and baby. Eat and drink as and when you feel hungry but avoid junk food and carbonated drinks and instead try to eat a healthy balanced diet.
Stress can be detrimental to both mother and baby as it can cause high blood pressure and even spontaneous labour in some cases. Try to keep stress levels to a minimum by eating a healthy, balanced diet, taking light exercise and getting plenty of sleep.
Although there is lots of conflicting advice about how much caffeine is safe, it is generally believed that moderate consumption is fine. You may want to cut down if you drink a lot of coffee or other caffeine- rich drinks, especially in the early weeks. However, many women have an aversion to tea and coffee in early pregnancy anyway and tend to avoid it anyway!
Folic Acid/ Folate
Any woman considering pregnancy should begin to increase her intake of folic acid also known as folate. Folic acid is a B vitamin that is important for the development of red blood cells. It is also extremely important as a preventative measure as it is known to drastically decrease the chance of a baby being born with neural tube defects (NTD).
NTD's can cause paralysis of the legs and problems with bowel and bladder control. Since the neural tube is completely formed by the fourth week of pregnancy, when many women are only beginning to suspect they may be pregnant, it is important that pregnancy is planned ahead of time.
Women are often advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid supplements from twelve weeks pre-pregnancy until twelve weeks into the pregnancy.
Folic acid is also found in dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli as well as oranges and enriched breakfast cereals and wholemeal bread.
However, some women require higher doses particularly if they already have a child with a neural defect or those women who suffer from epilepsy or diabetes. Your GP will advise you if this is the case, so again make an appointment before conceiving.
Hazards at Work
Unfortunately some working environments can lead to fertility problems or even pose a risk to the developing baby. Workplaces that may be a risk include those that work with some chemicals, X-rays, lead and anaesthetic gases. You should speak to both your GP and employer if you feel your working environment may be hazardous for you and your baby.
So to conclude, if you think carefully about the new life you will be bringing into the world, and make the necessary changes to your lifestyle and diet, then at least you know you are giving your longed-for baby the very best chances of developing into a healthy human being. And you can enjoy your pregnancy in the knowledge that you have done your very best. Good Luck!
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