Keeping fit, eating well, not smoking and watching your weight will greatly increase your chances of getting pregnant, having a trouble-free pregnancy and a healthy baby.
‘The best time to work on improving your health is before you conceive,’ explains our Health at Hand nurse and midwife, Jackie Hall. Here are some tips to help you get you in peak condition for pregnancy.
1. Aim for a healthy weight
“There’s evidence to suggest that losing weight if you’re overweight can increase chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy – both for you and your baby. The best time to do this is before you get pregnant. If you need help, speak to your GP or Practice Nurse about courses or programs that are available. Don’t try and lose weight while you are pregnant as this can be dangerous and make sure you attend all your antenatal appointments,” says Jackie. “Your partner’s sperm count may also be affected if he is very overweight.”
2. Eat a balanced diet
‘Eat a healthy balanced diet. There’s no need to ‘eat for 2’, you don’t need more calories than normal. Being overweight can increase your risk of developing complications such as pre-eclampsia (a type of high blood pressure that develops in pregnancy) and gestational diabetes -- conditions which can harm you and your baby.’
A healthy, balanced diet includes carbohydrates, lean proteins, at least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily, two portions of oily fish weekly, dairy products and whole grains. The NHS’s “Eatwell Guide” has some good information about diet if you want to know more.
3. Get regular exercise
‘How much exercise you should do during pregnancy depends on your pre-pregnancy levels of fitness and what you are used to doing,’ says Jackie.
‘Pregnant women should stay active. Walking helps the blood circulate. Swimming is a good all-over body muscle toner and some people find that yoga techniques can help them to manage labour.’ Avoid high impact or extreme sports. Exercise with caution at high altitudes.
Research published in Science and Medicine in Sports and Exercise journal suggests that there are benefits (such as fewer Caesarean sections) for previously sedentary women if they start moderate exercise in pregnancy – including brisk walking, swimming etc.
Abdominal and pelvic floor exercises can help with muscle tone and help to reduce back pain and pelvic discomfort later in your pregnancy. Avoid doing exercises lying flat on your back as the weight of your bump can restrict the blood flow of certain vessels and make you feel faint.
A note for dad: If you’re struggling to conceive, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that exercise can boost sperm count.
4. Take a daily 400mcg folic acid supplement
Folic acid (also known as vitamin B9) can significantly reduce the chance of your baby developing a neural tube defect (NTD) such as spina bifida. The UK has the highest level of NTD in Europe affecting up to 1.5 in 1000 births.
The Department of Health recommends starting a daily supplement while trying to conceive and continuing to taking this dose for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy while the baby's spine is developing. You can continue to take it throughout the pregnancy. If you didn't take folic acid supplements before getting pregnant, start taking them as soon as you know you’re having a baby.
5. Cut down on alcohol
The Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend that if you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.
This doesn’t mean total abstinence, so don’t feel guilty if you indulge in the odd glass of wine with dinner. You just need to be sensible, especially during the first trimester.
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in pregnancy can lead to long term harm for the baby with the risk increasing the more you drink.
If you are concerned about how much you drink, speak to your GP.
6. Cut down on caffeine
Try to limit yourself to two cups of instant coffee (no more than 200mg of caffeine) daily. Drinking too much caffeine has been linked to miscarriage and low birth weight in certain studies. But there’s an upside, consuming less caffeine has many benefits, such as better sleep, which you’ll appreciate more and more as the baby grows, and here are some great caffeine alternatives to help you if you’re feeling sluggish.
7. Quit smoking
Smoking is linked to miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and premature labour. It is always a good idea to quit smoking and it’s never too late. Expecting a baby is the perfect motivation to live a healthier life. The NHS has excellent resources online and your GP will be able to help too.
Finally, while you may feel excited or overwhelmed (or both) remember that pregnancy is not an illness – the vast majority of mums and babies in the UK don’t need much intervention. It is also normal, with the hormonal and lifestyle changes that pregnancy entails, for your mood to vary a little. However, if you feel that your mood has persistently deteriorated don’t hesitate to speak to your midwife, practice nurse or GP. If you have a question about your mental or physical health you can also ask our team of Health at Hand nurses, who are available 24/7.
For more information, visit these pages:
Diet and nutrition hub - AXA PPP healthcare
Fitness and exercise hub - AXA PPP healthcare
Spina bifida association
Start4Life - NHS
Health pregnancy - NHS
Hormones and mood swings - AXA PPP healthcare
British Medical Journal
Planning another pregnancy - NHS
Mental health - AXA PPP healthcare
New mums research - Mynewsdesk