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Fertility health centre

Protect your pregnancy before you conceive

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Thinking about getting pregnant? If so, then you're probably already knee-deep in ovulation predictor kits, temperature charts and maybe even pregnancy test kits.

While most women are concerned about what happens after they conceive, doctors say that more should be thinking about what to do before they even try for a baby.

Stop smoking

At the top of most experts’ “to do” list before getting pregnant is to stop smoking - a leading cause of problems for both mother and baby.

Around 13% of women continue to smoke during pregnancy right through to delivery.

Smoking is linked to low birth-weight babies, pre-term deliveries and even stillbirth. It is important not to smoke during pregnancy, and better still not to smoke before becoming pregnant, to help give your baby the best chance in life.

Studies show smoking can also make it harder for you to get pregnant. Smoking reduces a woman's fertility level by directly affecting the ovaries and reducing oestrogen levels. Stopping during pregnancy planning may not only help you get pregnant faster, it will also help ensure that your pregnancy - and your baby - gets off to the best start.

There is plenty of help around if you are finding it difficult to stop smoking from pharmacists, GPs, midwives and NHS Stop Smoking clinics.

Folic acid is important

When they are pregnant, most women know it's important to take supplements. What experts say many women don't realise, however, is how important it is to take this vitamin B supplement before becoming pregnant.

The NHS recommends you should begin taking folic acid when considering pregnancy. 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, while they are trying to conceive and until the 12th week of pregnancy.

Women at high risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect are advised to take 5mg of folic acid whilst trying to conceive and until the 12th week of pregnancy.


There is some evidence that caffeine may affect fertility, although research has provided mixed results. A US study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2011 reported that caffeine reduces muscle activity in the fallopian tubes that carry eggs from the ovaries to the womb. However, the study was done in mice so further research is needed to establish whether the findings also apply to humans.

During pregnancy, the NHS advises limiting caffeine to no more than 200mg a day. That's about 2 mugs of instant coffee.

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