Pre-conception begins when a couple decides to conceive, typically some weeks, months or even years before pregnancy occurs.
It is a time of great expectation at the prospect of becoming new parents
, and a time that provides a unique “window of opportunity” to influence short and long term health of Mum and Baby.
There is an increasing focus on the health of men during this time too. Men who are overweight or obese have a higher chance of having a decreased sperm count, with increasing evidence of other ways that men’s pre-conception weight can also influence the weight of the baby.
Pre-conception practical tips:
1. Take folic acid
Folic acid is a vitamin, it is found in certain foods, however, it would be very difficult to eat the amount you need, so it is important to take folic acid daily, for 2-3 months before you conceive.
This allows time for it to build up in the body to a level that gives protection to the baby against neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. As it is possible to get pregnant within a month of trying, women should ideally start taking folic acid 2 months before stopping contraception, and continue to take it until the 12th week of pregnancy.
The standard dose of folic acid is 400 micrograms daily, however, some women may require a higher dose, including women who have a BMI >30kg, those with a history of diabetes, family or personal history of neural tube defects. A pharmacist can provide advice about the dose required.
2. Aim for a healthy weight
Ideally, women should have a BMI between 20-25 before pregnancy. Being overweight during pregnancy can increase the risk of complications such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and pre-term labour. It can also increase the risk of a baby developing childhood obesity.
Women who are extremely underweight have a higher risk of having a small baby.
3. Eat a high nutrient diet
It is important to include a variety of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in the diet.
4. Take regular exercise
Aim for at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week.
5. Pre-existing medical conditions
- Acknowledge existing medical conditions that could affect a pregnancy.
- Take time to discuss medical conditions and medications with a Doctor before you become pregnant. In addition be mindful of over-the-counter medications & herbal remedies you may take on a regular basis.
Some conception issues and pregnancy threatening infections can be prevented by proper immunisation. Before trying to get pregnant, check with your Doctor if you require immunisation against rubella (German measles). Please remember to get a flu vaccine when you are pregnant.
7. Toxic substances
Know the common office & household substances to avoid including toxic chemical products (solvents, pesticides, cleaners, paint thinners) they can make it more difficult to become pregnant and may harm your developing baby during pregnancy.
8. Smoking and alcohol
If you smoke cigarettes, one of the most important things you can do to improve your own health is to quit smoking now. Smoking can make it harder for you to get pregnant. If you are trying to stop smoking, contact your Doctor or Practice Nurse to establish options available to help you quit. It is also recommended that you reduce or stop drinking alcohol during this time and strongly advised that you do not drink alcohol during your pregnancy.
There is an excellent pregnancy planner provided by Tommys Charity in the UK, worth using as guidance for planning a pregnancy. Here is the link
Kathy Whyte from www.nuturemum.ie is our Family Health Expert. Kathy offers advice, support and practical tips during the 1st 1000+days in the workplace. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.