The preconception period (three to six months prior to trying for a baby) is the ideal time to make life changes that can help boost your fertility, reduce the risk of developing problems during pregnancy and assist in your recovery after giving birth. Here are some tips on planning for pregnancy:
Have a pre-conception check-up
The first step is to visit your doctor for a preconception consult. Your Doctor will provide you with expert advice in terms of managing any medical conditions and optimising your health, including:
- Undertaking a general examination and asking questions about your medical and family health history.
- Organising blood tests to check your blood group, haemoglobin level, immunity for German measles (rubella) and chickenpox (varicella), hepatitis B, STI’s (Sexually transmitted infections) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
- Ensuring you have had any required vaccinations.
- Making sure your cervical screening test (previously the PAP smear) is up to date.
- Reviewing any current prescription medicines.
- Referring you to a specialist if either parent has a pre-existing medical condition that might affect the chances of conceiving or pregnancy health.
- Referring you for genetic counselling if appropriate.
Maintain a healthy weight
When it comes to pregnancy planning, being overweight or underweight can cause hormonal changes that interfere with ovulation and reduce fertility. On average, women who are obese take longer to conceive than women in the healthy weight range. Obesity can also lower fertility in men. It can cause erection problems, reduce the quality of a man’s sperm and affect both men and women’s libido.
One way to measure whether you are in a health weight range is to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI) via a BMI calculator. You simply enter your height and weight and it will produce a BMI number.
- A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered a ‘healthy weight’ (ideal for conception).
- A BMI below 18.5 is considered ‘underweight’.
- A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered ‘overweight’.
- A BMI over 30 is considered ‘obese’.
You can also measure your waist to indicate whether you have a healthy weight.
If you are outside of the healthy weight range, the good news is that by making some changes to your lifestyle, you can improve your chances of pregnancy and having a healthy baby.
Sometimes losing weight is not easy and takes time and commitment, however even losing a few kilos can improve your chances of falling pregnant. Making healthier food choices by eating a well balance diet with lean meats and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is a great start. Coffee intake should be limited to two cups per day. Research shows that if partners get healthier together, they will have a better chance of success. Support from friends and family can also help you set up healthy lifestyle habits for the future.
Regular exercise also improves fertility. Australian guidelines recommend most of us should do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity – such as brisk walking, gardening or dancing – at least five days a week. Guidelines recommend that overweight or obese adults should perform 35 to 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. However, it is also worth noting that a large amount of very high intensity exercise may actually reduce fertility and the chance of having a baby, so if unsure, discuss this with your doctor.
Take folic acid/iodine
There is good evidence that taking 500 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per day starting three months before trying for a baby is very helpful in improving pregnancy outcomes. It can also prevent the occurrence of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in your baby. You should also consider taking a combined folic acid/iodine supplement with at least 150mcg of iodine as iodine is important for a baby’s brain development.
Quitting smoking (and any recreational drug use) before trying for a baby is the single most effective means of protecting yourself and your baby from the development of serious complications during pregnancy. You are more likely to conceive naturally and without delay, and less likely to suffer an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage and less likely to deliver your baby prematurely. If your partner smokes, encourage them to quit as well.
Alcohol can reduce both female and male fertility. Even light drinking can reduce the likelihood of conception. In men, alcohol can reduce libido, cause impotence and affect sperm quality. If you are planning a pregnancy, not drinking at all is the safest and most effective option.
My team and I would be delighted to assist you on your fertility and pregnancy journey. Call (07) 3353 3100 to book an appointment today.