Preparing for pregnancy
If you're planning to have a baby, there's a lot to think about before getting pregnant to help ensure a healthy pregnancy.
Here are some things to consider:
During a preconception assessment, a healthcare professional such as your GP may discuss your:
- Reproductive history: Your GP will ask you about any previous pregnancies, your menstrual history, what type of contraception you use, previous sexually transmitted infections, as well as previous cervical smear results.
- Medical history: You will be asked about pre-existing medical conditions or allergies. Any medical condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, should be well controlled before you become pregnant.
- Surgical history: Tell your GP about any operations, blood transfusions and hospital admissions you may have had.
- Current medications: Tell your GP about any prescription or over-the-counter drugs you take or have taken. This may be a good time to discuss the possible need for medication substitutions to decrease the risks of birth defects.
- Family health history: Your GP will ask you questions about your family’s health. Tell your GP if anyone in your family has high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, twins, learning difficulties, blindness, deafness, cystic fibrosis, congenital birth defects, ethnicity-related conditions, such as Tay-Sachs disease, sickle trait/ sickle cell disease or thalassaemia.
- Home and workplace environment: Your GP will discuss possible hazards, such as exposure to cat faeces (toxoplasmosis), X-rays, and lead or solvents that could influence your ability to become pregnant or maintain a healthy pregnancy. It may be wise to tell employers of your pregnancy intentions, since employers are then duty-bound to assess any risks at work and minimise them.
- Your weight: Your GP will recommend you try to lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
- Lifestyle factors: your GP will ask you questions about you and your partner’s habits that could influence your pregnancy, such as smoking, drinking alcohol and using recreational drugs. If you or your partner participate in any of these activities, you should stop in order for you to increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy.
- Exercise: Tell your GP what type of exercise you do. Generally, you may continue your normal exercise routine throughout pregnancy unless you are instructed to decrease or modify your activities.
- Diet: Your GP will ask you about your dietary habits, including how much caffeine you consume. To ensure a healthy pregnancy, you should follow a healthy, well-balanced diet and eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need. Your GP will be able to give you more advice regarding your diet and it is important to remember that in the UK, women hoping to conceive are advised not to take vitamin A supplements or supplements containing vitamin A when trying for a baby or during pregnancy.
- Caffeine consumption: It is recommended that you do not have more than 200mg of caffeine a day while pregnant. The caffeine content in various drinks depends on the beans or leaves used and how it is prepared. One mug of instant coffee contains about 100mg of caffeine. Remember, tea, chocolate and certain medications contain caffeine too.
- Folic acid: Before considering a pregnancy, the NHS recommends you should begin taking folic acid. Folic acid has been shown to decrease the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect (such as spina bifida), a serious condition in which the brain and spinal cord do not form normally in the baby. In the UK, women deemed to be at “normal” risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect, are advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, both while they are trying to conceive and until the 12th week of pregnancy, whilst women at higher risk are advised to take 5mg of folic acid. Your doctor will advise you how much folic acid to take.