What should I do before I get pregnant to ensure a healthy pregnancy for me and my baby?
A typical pregnancy is nine months long, but to give your baby a healthy start, think of it as twelve months, including the three months before you get pregnant. This means that when you start thinking about trying to conceive, you should:
Go and see your GP and say that you are planning a pregnancy. He or she will discuss such issues as the importance of taking a daily dose of folic acid from the time you start trying to fall pregnant until the twelfth week of pregnancy, the importance of not smoking.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists issued new advice in 2015 saying there is no proven safe amount of alcohol that women can drink during pregnancy, but small amounts of alcohol after the first trimester does not appear to be harmful.
The GP will also advise you about any medication you take and if it is safe in pregnancy.
In addition to eating a healthy diet (lots of leafy greens, lean proteins, and fibre), make sure you take sufficient folic acid before getting pregnant. This nutrient helps prevent birth defects like spina bifida; since many of these conditions arise very early in pregnancy, you need healthy levels of folic acid right from the start. The NHS recommendation is to take 400 mcg (micrograms) of folic acid each day starting from the moment you start trying to become pregnant, and to continue for the first three months of pregnancy. This can be prescribed by your GP, but if you have to pay prescription charges, it may be cheaper to buy folic acid over the counter. Some people at greater risk of having a baby with a spine defect are advised to take a 5mg dose of folic acid whilst trying to become pregnant and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Ask you GP whether this applies to you.
If you smoke, you should stop. Smoking poses a host of risks to a developing baby, including birth defects and low birth weight. It also doubles your risk of having an ectopic pregnancy. You may also find it more difficult to become pregnant in the first place if you smoke, as smoking is strongly linked with subfertility in both women and men.
Get any health problems, like diabetes and high blood pressure, under control. If you are overweight talk to your doctor about how to achieve a healthy weight.
What should and shouldn't I eat while I'm pregnant?
While pregnant get all the essential vitamins and minerals you need by eating a healthy balanced diet.
Fill your plate with leafy greens, fruits, vegetables and whole grains (like wheat breads and cereals). Get plenty of calcium rich foods like broccoli and low-fat milk and yoghurt, to help build your baby's bones and teeth. Stick to lean meats like chicken and turkey.
Foods to avoid during pregnancy include:
- The NHS recommends limiting some fish, such as tuna and oily fish, and avoiding some types of fish completely, such as shark and marlin, and raw shellfish as it can cause food poisoning.
- Some raw fish.
- Unpasteurised soft cheeses like Brie, Camembert, Feta, Gorgonzola and Roquefort. They may contain bacteria called listeria that can cross the placenta, potentially causing miscarriage or leading to a life threatening infection.
- Unpasteurised milk, which can also contain listeria.
- Cold ready-to-eat meats, like hot dogs and luncheon meats; these can also contain listeria. Reheat these foods until they are steaming hot.
- Uncooked or cured eggs and meats, like prosciutto, runny eggs, and sauces made with raw eggs (like some hollandaise sauces).
- Alcohol. There is no known safe level of exposure to alcohol for a foetus.
- Caffeine. The NHS says it’s not necessary to cut out caffeine completely but don’t have more than 200mg a day, equivalent to two mugs of instant coffee.