There are many things to consider when thinking about having a baby. For a start, are you physically healthy?
Have a pre-conception health-check
When you're thinking about having a baby it's a really good time to go to the doctor for a pre-conception check-up. Most women in the UK will have been inoculated against Rubella, but if you have any doubts at all then do ask your doctor. You might also want discuss coming off the pill.
This is also a good time to discuss with your doctor anything in your gynaelogical history that may affect your chances of becoming pregnant.
Weight and diet
Being overweight and underweight are both linked to problems conceiving. Being overweight can also make you more susceptible to certain pregnancy complications and simply make pregnancy more uncomfortable, so it's well worth trying to get to a more healthy weight before you start trying to conceive. That doesn't mean, of course, that you need to be a size 12 -14 to have a happy and healthy pregnancy, women of all kinds of weights become parents.
And being a healthy weight isn't everything, good (or bad) nutrition has a huge impact on your state of health and readiness to conceive, so if you have a weakness for processed, sugary and junk foods then it's time to rein in the excesses and try to stick to a well-balanced diet. And don't forget to encourage your partner to eat healthily for conception too.
Get fit to conceive
While physical fitness can't guarantee you a successful pregnancy, being in good physical shape does improve your chances of conception, and of maintaining a pregnancy beyond the early stages. Physical fitness is also a huge help when it comes to coping with the physical demands of pregnancy and childbirth. If you're leading a sedentary lifestyle and aren't sure where to start with a fitness routine then start off short and sweet and build up gently. Have a look at our article on getting fit for conception for some ideas and do consult your doctor before starting on any fitness regime.
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Get to know your cycle
One of the reasons it makes sense to come off the pill a few months before starting to try for a baby is that it gives you a chance to become more familiar with your menstrual cycle and become more in tune with when your fertile times are.
When you do decide that you're ready to conceive then bear in mind that it might not happen right away. While there's plenty you can do to improve your chances of conception and get yourself ready, no-one can tell you when you'll fall pregnant and it's not unusual for it to take many months, particularly if you've left it a little later to start trying.
Smoking and alcohol
Smoking (or having a partner who smokes) has been linked with reduced fertility. During pregnancy, smoking raises your risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, as well as of premature birth. It also raises the likelihood of low birth weight, which in itself is linked with a plethora of health problems for babies and developing children, and your child may be affected for life. It's best to give up smoking before trying for a baby and to avoid smoky places when at all possible.
Alcohol consumption, meanwhile, can have a negative effect on fertility levels for both men and women, affecting the quality of sperm and eggs respectively, and of course, once you are pregnant, even regular moderate drinking has been shown to have an effect on the developing baby. New UK government guidelines state that women who are trying to conceive, as well as pregnant women, should avoid alcohol completely because of the potential dangers to the unborn child. While there's no evidence that a very small amount of regular alcohol will harm a developing baby, there is no established safe limit, hence the rather stark advice. Many women trying for a baby compromise by cutting back their drinking to very light levels and avoiding alcohol completely around the time of ovulation until their next period.
If you are aware that you have a drinking problem then it's important to seek your doctor's advice before trying for a baby.
If you live a particularly hectic and strained lifestyle then think about how you can reduce stress in the run-up to trying for a baby. Stress is linked with difficulties conceiving and won't do your developing baby any good once you do fall pregnant. Make sure you take regular time to do something that relaxes you, whatever that is.
Have a dental health check
While your dentist can usually offer alternatives that are safe for pregnant women, it's sensible to get a check-up before trying to conceive to make sure that no major dental work is imminent.
Take your folic acid
Folic acid is so important to the health of your developing foetus that doctors recommend that you take it every day for three months before you start trying to conceive (TTC). There's no pressing need to put back your plans if you don't have that much time, but do start taking a folic acid supplement straight away once you've decided on trying for a baby and try to get folic acid from natural sources such as green leafy vegetables, cereals, wholegrains, fruits and citrus juices, beans and nuts. You'll find folic acid supplements in chemists and health food shops, either on its own or combined with other supplements for pregnancy. When you're buying a supplement check that it contains the recommended dose of 400mcg per day.