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A comprehensive guide to planning your pregnancy

Phil Day: Superintendent Pharmacist | minute read

Have you recently decided you’d like to start a family? Congratulations! Getting pregnant and preparing for your baby is an exciting time, but with so much to factor in, it can be daunting too. We've put together this guide that looks at what to consider when trying to conceive.

Preparing your body for pregnancy

Preparing your body for getting pregnant not only helps improve your chances of conceiving but also paves the way for a healthy pregnancy. There are different ways to help get your body ready for carrying a baby, and dads' physical health is important for conception too.

Lifestyle factors

If you're a smoker, stopping for good prior to trying for a baby can improve fertility in both men and women. Being a non-smoker during pregnancy also reduces the risk of health complications including miscarriage, premature labour, a low birth weight, and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). The NHS offers free resources for anyone who wants help to quit smoking.

Weekly alcohol intake is another factor to look at as part of your pregnancy planning. Pregnancy charity Tommy's recommends that both parents-to-be go alcohol-free when trying to conceive. Heavy drinking has been found to negatively affect fertility in men and women. Not drinking also ensures minimal risk to your baby when you do fall pregnant, as medical professionals widely agree that there is no 'safe' amount of alcohol you can drink during pregnancy.

Weight management

Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is another recommended goal when planning to conceive. The NHS advises that a BMI within the normal range for your gender, height, and age can help when trying for a baby. This also supports a healthy pregnancy and reduces the risk of health complications such as high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, and gestational diabetes. Keeping active and enjoying a healthy, balanced diet help to maintain a sustainable weight. For exercise inspiration that'll fit in with your day, have a look at our guide on simple ways to get active each day. If you're planning to lose weight before trying to get pregnant, check out our feature on healthy eating for weight loss.

Vitamins and supplements

The NHS recommends taking folic acid when trying to conceive. The advice is to take 400 micrograms of folic acid each day when trying to get pregnant, and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Folic acid is a synthetic form of the B9 vitamin that helps our bodies form healthy red blood cells. It's particularly important in pregnancy as it helps to form healthy brain and spinal cord development in the foetus. Depending on your circumstances and health history, your doctor might advise you to take a higher dose. They'll talk to you about folic acid at your first appointment.  

Promoting positive wellbeing

Getting ready to have a baby is a significant life event, and it's natural to experience feelings of anticipation and nervousness while trying to get pregnant. Sometimes these can develop, and you may find yourself feeling anxious or depressed if, for example, it's taking longer than you expected to get pregnant. Bear in mind, the NHS advises that 84% of couples conceive naturally within 12 months when having regular (every 2-3 days) unprotected sex. Taking steps to maintain positive mental health can help keep stress levels manageable and provide life balance during what can be a challenging time for you and your partner. Make time to enjoy activities together as a couple. If you're losing weight as part of your pregnancy journey, you might want to go for a walk or cycle together, or create a weekly meal plan featuring your favourite healthy foods. Plan your day to ensure you have some time for self-care. This could be taking a bath or reading a chapter of your latest book. You might want to try yoga or start keeping a journal. Regular relaxation has been found to offer a range of health benefits, including better sleep quality, regulation of blood sugar levels, a lower heart rate, and improved digestive function.

When to speak to your GP

Make an appointment with your GP as soon as you can after finding out you're pregnant. They will explain what happens next. Depending on your doctor's surgery, you might see your GP first or be referred straight to your local midwifery team. This team will be involved in your care throughout the pregnancy and when you have your baby. You'll have the chance to ask questions and discuss aspects of your pregnancy like supplements, exercise, vaccinations, scans, and anything else you want to chat through. Make a list of things that you want to talk about with your doctor or midwife once you’ve booked your appointment.

If you've been trying to get pregnant naturally for 12 months or more, book an appointment to see your GP. They'll be able to discuss the next steps and look at tests you can have to determine what may be stopping you from getting pregnant. It's important to remember that you're not alone. The NHS notes that 1 in 7 couples can have difficulty conceiving. Talk to your GP to find out what options are available to you. You might want to seek support from a specialist organisation like Fertility Network UK which is recommended by the NHS and offers a dedicated helpline, group meetings, and events.