What should we think about before we start trying?
Before you take the plunge, you and your partner may find it helpful to ask yourselves these questions:
- Are you both equally committed to becoming parents?
- Have you thought through how you'll handle childcare responsibilities and balancing work and family?
- Are you ready to give up sleeping in on Sundays or line up a babysitter every time you want to go out without your baby?
- Have you thought about how becoming parents may change you, and your relationships with those closest to you?
- Are you prepared for the possibility that your child may have special needs?
- If you have religious differences, have you discussed how they will affect your child?
Having a baby won't just have a small impact on your life, it's going to shift the centre of your universe. Some new parents find this a shock. Think about how you'll feel, how you usually cope with change, and how you can prepare yourself for the highs (and lows) of parenthood.
When should we stop using contraception?
For some people, stopping contraception is as easy as shoving the condoms or diaphragm to the back of a drawer. If you're on the pill and want to get pregnant, you can stop taking it and start trying straight away if you're ready to. Or you may want to wait until you've had at least one post-pill period.
Knowing the date of your last period can help your midwife or doctor to estimate your due date when you do get pregnant. It can also give you time to make other changes to your lifestyle before you conceive.
You may find it takes up to six months for your menstrual cycle to get back on track. If you do get pregnant while you're still on the pill, stop taking it and see your doctor. There's no evidence of an increased risk of miscarriage or abnormalities for women who conceive while taking the pill. But you may want to reassure yourself by talking it through with your doctor.
If you've been using the contraceptive injection, it may take up to a year for you to return to your usual fertility.
Do I need to change what I eat if I'm trying for a baby?
Eating well is essential if you're intent on baby-making. Aim for a balanced diet of three meals a day, including at least five daily portions of fruit and vegetables. Four of the most important nutrients for a healthy start to pregnancy are:
To ensure you have these important nutrients, include the following in your meals:
- dairy produce
- fruit and vegetables
- whole grains and cereals
- protein in the form of lean meat, fish, eggs, pulses or nuts
You can take multivitamins designed for women who are trying to conceive or an antenatal supplement. These will contain 400mcg of folic acid. This is a B vitamin that helps to prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida in developing babies. Some women need to take more folic acid and have a 5mg dose prescribed by their doctor. However, apart from folic acid, supplements shouldn't be a substitute for a healthy, balanced diet. You shouldn't take high-dose supplements to build up your reserves.
Some studies have suggested that having a lot of caffeine may affect your fertility. Although the evidence isn't conclusive, if you're trying for a baby it makes sense to keep your caffeine intake below 200mg a day. Caffeine levels in drinks vary, but two cups of instant coffee contain about 200mg of caffeine.
Will my weight affect my fertility?
Being either underweight or overweight can cause hormone imbalances. This can affect your fertility by making you less likely to ovulate. It can also increase the risk of complications in pregnancy. If you can, try to achieve a healthy weight, with a body mass index (BMI) of between about 19 and 25, before you conceive. This will increase your chances of conception and of having a healthy pregnancy. You can calculate your body mass index (BMI) with our BMI calculator. If you have irregular periods and your BMI is 30 or higher, try to bring down your BMI. Losing between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of your body weight can help to regulate your menstrual cycle. This, in turn, will improve your chances of conceiving. It's best not to crash diet, though, as this can deplete your body's nutritional stores. Aim to lose between 0.5kg and 1kg (between 1lb and 2lb) a week, which is a safe rate of weight loss. For best results, stick to a healthy, balanced diet of low-fat and low-sugar foods, combined with an exercise programme. If you're underweight, try to put on a few pounds. Being underweight can affect ovulation. And when you do conceive, your risk of miscarriage increases if you're underweight. Just as it's best not to crash diet if you're overweight, it's best not to gorge on sugary, fatty foods to put on weight fast. These types of foods won't give you the important vitamins and minerals you need. Try to get your extra calories from healthy food choices.
Should I start exercising more before I conceive?
Getting fit before you conceive lays the foundations for a healthy pregnancy. Building your stamina, strength and flexibility can help you to:
- maintain an active lifestyle during pregnancy and enjoy those nine months
- improve your mood and energy levels
- achieve a healthy pre-pregnancy weight
- cope with the hormonal shifts of pregnancy
- cope with the rigours of labour, when the time comes
Being active and taking regular exercise that strengthens your back muscles may help to stave off lower back pain later. If you can, build exercise into your everyday life. Try walking or cycling to work instead of taking the bus, or using the stairs instead of the lift. Running and jogging are other good ways to get in shape before pregnancy. If you're not already a runner or a jogger, you may like to start now. Running and jogging shouldn't be started for the first time during pregnancy. Reaching a level of fitness now means you can either continue or tailor your routine once you are pregnant. Start slowly and don't push yourself too hard. If you have a conceptual check-up at your local surgery, you could have a chat with your doctor or nurse about starting an exercise programme.
Is smoking, drinking and taking drugs harmful when you're trying?
Yes, these can all be harmful when you're trying for a baby. There are many good reasons to stop smoking, stop taking drugs and drink little or no alcohol. Making these changes to your lifestyle is good for your own health and, once you're conceived, for your baby's health and development. Smoking is likely to reduce your fertility and recreational drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, can affect your ovulatory and tubal function. This can make it harder for you to conceive. Even drugs that are available over-the-counter or by prescription can harm your fertility. It is, therefore, important to discuss your medication with a doctor before you start trying for a baby. Alcohol can also affect your ability to conceive. While trying for a baby, it is best to reduce the amount you drink to no more than one or two units per day. Try not to get drunk during this time. This will help reduce any risk of harm to your baby if your attempts are successful. During pregnancy, smoking, taking illegal drugs and drinking alcohol are connected to an increased risk of miscarriage. Further into your pregnancy, you're more at risk having a low-birth-weight baby and premature birth. Too much alcohol during pregnancy can seriously affect your baby's development. Because experts can't be sure about a safe level of alcohol for an unborn baby, it is best to stick to no more than one or two units, once or twice a week, and don't get drunk.
What if my job could be harmful once I get pregnant?
Some jobs can be hazardous to you and your unborn baby. If you are exposed to chemicals or radiation often, you may need to consider making changes before you conceive. Likewise, if you fly a lot or stand all day, think about how you might cope if you became pregnant. If possible, tell your employer that you're planning a pregnancy and ask about ways to avoid or eliminate hazards in your workplace. If you don't want to let your employer know that you're trying for a baby, the Health and Safety Executive has information about how to make your work environment safer.