Preparing for Pregnancy

If you have decided to have a baby and are trying to conceive you may wish to start planning your pregnancy and thinking about issues such as your health, your diet, budgeting for a baby and leaving work. This guide will outline a number of practical issues, as well as offering information and advice about how best to prepare for pregnancy and adapt to the prospect of life with a newborn baby.

Pregnancy and health

If you are planning to have a baby you should start thinking about making changes to your diet and daily routine; if you already eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly you may not have to make many changes but if you are used to eating a lot of convenience foods, drink, smoke or take drugs on a regular basis and exercise rarely, you should think about changing your lifestyle habits.

It is important to be as healthy as possible during pregnancy as this will increase the chances of the foetus developing into a healthy baby; preparing your body by eating well and exercising regularly prior to pregnancy will boost your immune system, promote good general health and help to improve the chances of conception.

If you smoke, drink regularly or take drugs, you should cut down as quickly as possible; doing any of these activities during pregnancy can be extremely harmful for the baby and it may have severe consequences. Giving up before pregnancy will help you to get used to life without these vices and will also boost your health almost instantaneously. If you need help to give up, contact your GP.

Before you decide to try for a baby it is also a good idea to have a general health check up, an STI test and an immunity test for rubella and other potentially harmful diseases; these tests will check that you are in good health and help to prevent harmful conditions affecting the baby during pregnancy.

Diet and supplements

If you are planning to have a baby, you need to think about what you are eating and try to boost your immune system. Eating a healthy diet has a range of benefits for general health and will prepare the body for pregnancy. A healthy diet should include plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain foods, proteins and fats; fats should be controlled carefully and you should try to stick to unsaturated fats. Nowadays, you can also buy prenatal vitamin supplements, which may help to increase the chances of conceiving, as well as preparing the body for pregnancy.

If you are trying to get pregnant it is a good idea to take folic acid supplements or increase the amount of folate-rich foods you eat; these include certain breakfast cereals, leafy green vegetables, nuts and pulses. It is important for both men and women to increase their folic acid intake when trying for a baby. Other vitamins and nutrients that are beneficial for boosting fertility include:

  • Vitamin C: a lack of vitamin C can cause men’s sperm to clump together, which makes conception more difficult.
  • Vitamin B6: this vitamin, along with folic acid and vitamin B12, is essential for a healthy reproductive system.
  • Zinc: zinc is important for the production of testosterone in men, as well as being essential for effective use of oestrogen and progesterone in women.
  • Selenium: selenium increases sperm count and also helps to reduce the risk of having a baby with birth defects.
  • Vitamin E: vitamin E often increases the chance of conception, although it is not known how this works.

You should also increase your intake of folic acid during the first trimester of pregnancy, as this will help to reduce the risk of birth defects including spina bifida. Try to eat foods that are rich in iron, including spinach, pulses, grainy bread and red meat, as many women are prone to low levels of iron during pregnancy; women who have low iron levels may be advised to take iron tablets and you may be encouraged to take certain vitamin supplements; do not take vitamin A tablets during pregnancy as this may contribute to abnormalities with the foetus. Vitamin D is important during pregnancy because it helps the baby to develop strong bones.

Try to drink plenty of water both before and after you conceive; cut down on alcohol if you are trying for a baby and give up drinking if you find out that you are pregnant. You should also cut down on caffeine during pregnancy.

During pregnancy there are certain foods which you should avoid; these include:

  • Pate
  • Liver
  • Mould-ripened cheese (including brie, camembert and stilton)
  • Marlin, swordfish and shark (these fish are very high in mercury and this could harm the baby)
  • Raw shellfish


If you are planning to have a baby, it is important to be as healthy as possible. Exercise is a key ingredient of a healthy lifestyle; exercising on a regular basis helps to keep the muscles and organs healthy and functioning effectively, increases circulation and keeps body weight stable; exercise also helps to reduce stress.

Exercise is also important during pregnancy; you should be able to exercise as normal during the early stages of pregnancy but you may find it more difficult to exercise as you get bigger. Try more moderate, gentle exercises such as walking, yoga and swimming if you are struggling to keep up with your normal exercise routine.

Exercise has a range of benefits during pregnancy; these include:

  • Keeps the body fit and healthy; as well as improving muscle strength and tone, exercising also keeps the heart ticking over and prepares the muscles for labour.
  • Makes you feel good: exercise releases endorphins, which make you feel positive. Exercise also reduces stress.
  • Aids sleep: exercise helps to make you sleep better, which is a definite plus point during pregnancy.
  • Paves the way for after the birth: if you exercise before you get pregnant, your body is more likely to bounce back after you give birth. Your muscles will be strong and toned and your organs will be healthy.


Many women have questions about stopping taking contraception so that they can try for a baby. If you are taking a contraceptive pill, doctors recommend completing the cycle and then waiting until after your period to try and conceive; if you have been on the pill for a long time, it may take a while for your body to adapt and you may find that it takes a little longer to get pregnant than you may have first anticipated.

If you have an IUD, you should be able to start trying to conceive immediately after the device is taken out. If you have the contraceptive implant, it may take around six months for fertility levels to return to normal.

It may be beneficial to discuss stopping your contraception with your doctor; they will be able to advise you about your fertility levels and then you can decide when to stop taking contraception.

Hazardous environments

If you are planning to get pregnant, try to avoid hazardous environments, where harmful chemicals and toxins may be present; these substances may reduce fertility and if you are already pregnant, exposure to such chemicals could harm the baby. Environmental factors could contribute to miscarriages, premature birth and stillbirth; they may also cause birth defects.

Body weight before and during pregnancy

  • Before pregnancy

Body weight can have an impact on fertility; being either under or over weight can affect the chances of conceiving. If you have problems with your weight you should try to resolve these before you start trying for a baby. If you are underweight, you should see your doctor about making changes to your daily diet; if you have an eating disorder you should get professional help before you try for a baby.

If you are a little bit overweight, try to lose weight by making simple changes to your diet and increasing the amount of exercise you do. Try to reduce the number of calories you take in slightly (don’t drastically cut calories, as this is not good for the body) and switch fatty foods for healthier options.

If you are very overweight and are struggling to lose weight, talk to your doctor. Your doctor will discuss your current diet and lifestyle with you and make recommendations for how you could change them for the better. If you have already tried healthy eating and increase the amount of exercise you do, they may refer you to a specialist dietician or weight loss surgeon.

  • During pregnancy

Most people are aware that the body undergoes significant changes during pregnancy; while many women embrace the changes, for others the changes can be very difficult to handle.

If you are planning to try for a baby, read books, watch videos and go on websites that deal with pregnancy; read about what will happen to your body and try to learn about the changes taking places and the developmental stages of your baby. Try to get used to the changes that will happen to your body and then they won’t come as such as surprise during your pregnancy. If you have problems with your body weight, discuss this with your doctor before you try to conceive; some women are terrified about putting on weight but learning about the nutritional needs of their baby can help them to eat healthily and learn to deal with their weight gain. Contrary to the popular saying, there is no need to ‘eat for two’during pregnancy; in fact, a pregnant woman only needs to take in around 300 more calories per day during the last 6 months of pregnancy; the calorie intake does not need to be higher than usual during the first three months. On average, pregnant women who are a healthy weight to begin with tend to put on around two to three stone during pregnancy.

Drinking, smoking and taking drugs

If you are planning to try and conceive, you should try to ensure you are as healthy as possible. If you smoke, you should try and give up as soon as possible; there is a great deal of help available so contact your GP; research has shown that joining local stop smoking groups has a much higher success rate than trying to give up on your own. The sooner you give up, the better, as you will be less tempted to smoke if you do become pregnant. Smoking during pregnancy can have very serious implications for the developing foetus and carries risks of miscarriage, premature birth and stillbirth.

For many women, giving up alcohol is not a difficult change to adapt to; however, if you drink on a regular basis, you may find the change very difficult. If you have a serious drink problem, you should get help for this before you decide to try for a baby; drinking during pregnancy can have very serious effects on the baby and increases the risk of the baby being born with birth defects. If you think you have a problem and would like to get help to cut down, contact your GP. It is best to cut down on drinking if you are planning to try for a baby, not just if you are already pregnant; this way you will be used to not drinking; alcohol can also affect fertility so it best to cut down if you are trying to conceive.

Taking illegal drugs has serious consequences for health at any time, but taking them when you are trying for a baby or when you are pregnant can be extremely dangerous. Drugs have very unpredictable effects and can cause very serious side-effects, which could potentially prove to be life-threatening. If you have a problem with drug-taking you should try to resolve this before you try for a baby; talk to your doctor about getting drugs counselling.

Leaving work

Many expectant mothers work for the majority of their pregnancy; some work until just a few weeks before they are due to give birth. Think about your work arrangements before you decide to go ahead and try for a baby; most companies are now very flexible and legislations requires them to be cooperative and fair when it comes to allowing people maternity leave. You may wish to consider working full time and then dropping your hours during the later stages of your pregnancy; talk to your employer about this well in advance so that you know where you stand and so that your employer can make arrangements to accommodate you.

There are certain regulations that apply to claiming maternity pay. For example you must have been working for an employer for a set amount of time before you take time off for maternity leave, so make sure you discuss this with your employer and find out your rights and entitlements. If you are a UK resident you should contact your local authority or the Citizens’Advice Bureau for further details.

Financial planning and health insurance

It is no secret that babies are extremely expensive and you should start to think about budgets and planning for a baby before you decide to try for a baby. Start to put money aside for things you will need for the baby and plan a monthly or weekly budget, which will help you to work out how much money you will have to spend once you have paid for bills, food and any other regular outgoings.

If you are working and plan to take maternity leave, find out what you would be entitled to before you decide to try for a baby; this way you will know exactly how much you will be getting each month. Bear in mind that you will be only be able to claim full payments for a certain period of time; after this time, your payments may decrease. You should also find out how much you would be entitled to claim in terms of benefits and financial support from the government.

If you live in the UK you will be entitled to free care from the NHS; if however, you live in the USA you will need to think about health insurance both for you during your pregnancy and after the birth and your baby. Make sure your health insurance covers everything you need it to and if it doesn’t, take out a policy that does so that you are prepared for your pregnancy.

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