Katie Hilton (Bsc, Msc) – Registered Midwife & Health Visitor
Providing your baby with the best start in life will mean ensuring your own body is healthy before becoming pregnant. Your overall health, diet and any medication you take regularly can all have an impact on your ability to have a health pregnancy. If you are planning on conceiving it is worthwhile making adjustments to your lifestyle, this can include eating a healthy balanced diet and exercising.
It is in your best interests to visit your GP before trying to conceive. Most General Practitioners offer pre-conception care and advice before you become pregnant. Your GP may refer you across to the Midwife or Practice Nurse for further support. If you have a long-standing medical condition such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy, then it will be of paramount importance to see your GP before considering trying for a baby. Your doctor may need to make some changes to your medication, as some are not safe to take during pregnancy. If your medication is being changed, you may need to allow your body time to adjust to your new treatment. Try to arrange an appointment with your GP at least 3 months before trying to conceive.
Whether your pre-conception check up is with the GP, Midwife or Practice Nurse, you can be sure there are certain areas you will always be asked about including:
Your general health and lifestyle
Your diet and eating habits
Menstrual cycle and any problems with periods
Your level of exercise and frequency
Whether your job involves working in hazardous environments
Your pre-conception check is a great opportunity to talk through any concerns or worries and set your mind at rest before conceiving. Your GP will most likely assess your weight. If you are overweight, classed as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above, your GP will probably recommend losing a little weight to help you to conceive and ensure a healthy pregnancy. If you are underweight, discuss with your GP healthy techniques to increase your weight. If you are underweight this can lead to an irregular menstrual cycle and lead to infrequent ovulation.
Your GP will want to discuss any pre-existing medical conditions and will also find it helpful to know about any genetic conditions within your family, such as downs syndrome, sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis and thalassemia. This will enable him to arrange for further support and guidance. They will likely also want to discuss your current method of contraception, how and when to stop taking your contraception and how long it will roughly take you to conceive. Be aware some methods, such as the contraceptive injection can take up to one year for fertility to return to normal.
Your GP, Midwife or Practice Nurse will also ask about any previous terminations, miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies. You may find it difficult to go over painful experiences, but try to remember that this information will help your healthcare provider offer you the best advice.
Your doctor may suggest a number of tests before conceiving including: –
Blood Tests = these will be to ensure you are not anemic, to check your immunity to certain conditions such as rubella and dependent on your background and medical history blood tests may be requested to screen for genetic disorders.
STI Screening = If you are concerned about your risk of sexually transmitted infections including hepatitis B, chlamydia, syphilis or HIV request a referral to your genito-urinary clinic. Receiving treatment for a sexually transmitted infection before conceiving can hugely increase the possibility of a healthy, successful pregnancy.
Smear Test = Your GP may recommend a smear test if you have not had one within the last three years, or are due to have one within the next year. Smear tests aren’t normally performed during pregnancy due to changes in the cervix, which can make interpreting the results difficult.
Your GP, Midwife or Practice Nurse will want to ensure all your vaccinations are up to date. Many simple, preventable infections can cause miscarriage, so it is important to be as up to date as possible. If you are not sure a quick blood test will be able to check your immunity to a number of diseases. If you require a booster, you should hold off conceiving for a month after the vaccination to ensure your body and baby will be fully protected throughout pregnancy.
As soon as you have made the decision to try for a baby, start taking a daily dose of 400mcg folic acid. Folic acid can reduce the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Your folic acid supplement will be particularly important in the early weeks of your pregnancy when your baby is developing his brain and nervous system. Folic acid can be purchased from any pharmacy or supermarket. Once you have conceived, a vitamin D supplement is also recommended.
Smoking, drinking and drugs can all have a negative impact on your baby and increase your risk of an unhealthy pregnancy. If you are planning on conceiving it will be worthwhile quitting before becoming pregnant. Your health professional will be able to offer support and advice and refer you to a smoking cessation advisor. Many experts are unsure about the safe level of alcohol to consume in pregnancy; for this reason alcohol should be avoided altogether. If you do decided to drink, try to keep to 1-2 units once or twice each week.
Remember, it’s not just your body you have to prepare for pregnancy; you will also have to change your lifestyle.