Trying for a baby is exciting and stressful. Getting your body prepared gives you the best chance of a healthy pregnancy and baby.
General health check
If you’ve decided to try for a baby, go and see your GP for a chat and a check up. Your check up should include:
- making sure your pap smear is up to date
- a breast check
- blood pressure
- weight screening
- blood tests
- lifestyle advice.
Your partner should be having a health check too! You’ll both need to be tested for:
- immunity to rubella and chickenpox – some infectious diseases can affect your baby’s development
- sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – to minimise the risk of STIs affecting your fertility or passing an infection to each other or your baby.
The Fertility Society of Australia recommends women take 400-500 mcg of folic acid daily when trying for a baby and for the first 3 months of pregnancy. Research shows folic acid helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTD) in babies.
If you have a family history of NTDs, type 1 or 2 diabetes or a body mass index (BMI) over 30, talk to your GP or fertility specialist about the best dose for you.
Keeping healthy helps boost your chances of falling pregnant, and research shows women with a healthy diet before conception are less likely to have a baby with birth defects.
Try to include:
- a range of fruit and vegetables
- good quality protein like lean meat, fish, eggs, beans and lentils
- complex carbohydrates from peas, beans, whole grains and vegetables
- plenty of calcium (choose low-fat dairy products).
Try to avoid:
- eating fish with high mercury like mackerel, shark, swordfish and some tuna
- additives, artificial colours, flavours and preservatives
- a high fat diet. Include healthy fats like olive oil.
Being severely overweight or underweight can affect your chances of falling pregnant or put you and your baby at risk during pregnancy:
- overweight women (obesity) can reduce fertility by causing hormonal changes
- women who are underweight can also reduce fertility by causing hormonal imbalances – you’re more than twice as likely to take over a year to fall pregnant
- in men, obesity can cause hormonal problems or sexual dysfunction which can lead to infertility.
Understanding your weight
Calculating your body mass index (BMI) is a good way to measure if you’re overweight or underweight.
If you’re BMI is higher than it should be, don’t panic. You can boost your fertility by losing weight with healthy eating and regular exercise. You don’t need to become super-fit overnight – even moderate exercise and modest weight loss improves your chances of conceiving. This goes for the males too, so send them to read this if they need convincing!
If you’re concerned, talk to your GP or fertility specialist.
Please stop. It’s bad for your health and your fertility. Some quick facts to think about:
- smokers are more likely than non-smokers to be infertile
- cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals harmful to the reproductive organs
- smoking can cause erectile dysfunction
- it can increase DNA damage to eggs and sperm
- there’s a link between heavy smoking in males and childhood cancer.
The good news is the effects of smoking on fertility can be reversed. Quitting smoking increases your chances of getting pregnant and having a healthy baby.
There’s no agreed safe level of alcohol intake while trying to conceive or during pregnancy – so women should ideally stop drinking alcohol.
Alcohol can cause impotence and damage sperm quality. Men should stick to ‘safe drinking guidelines’ – an average two drinks per day maximum, with several alcohol-free days each week and no more than four standard drinks in one session.
Caffeine isn’t just in coffee. It’s a stimulant also found in tea, energy drinks, some soft drinks and even chocolate. There’s no clear evidence that caffeine affects fertility, but some studies show large amounts of caffeine makes it harder to conceive and leads to a higher risk of miscarriage.
Men and women should aim for less than 200mg of caffeine a day – about 1-2 coffees or 2-3 cups of tea. If you need to reduce your caffeine intake, do it slowly to minimise the withdrawal symptoms.
Being at a healthy weight improves your chances of having a baby – and exercise is important for managing your weight. Remember, even modest weight loss can improve general health and fertility, and there’s no better motivator than a baby.
Quick tips to get moving:
- any exercise is better than none
- try to be active most days (preferably all)
- go for a quick walk to break up times when you have to sit down for long periods.
Zika Virus & Pregnancy
Data involving Zika, its transmission and infectivity, and its adverse effects on fetuses and adults is changing daily. Guidance based on current knowledge is iterative as our understanding of this virus rapidly changes. Any guidance published today may not be accurate for counseling and treatment of individuals tomorrow. Refer to the CDC Zika website for the most updated information: https://www.cdc.gov/zika/
SUMMARY TABLE. CDC recommendations for preconception counseling and prevention of sexual transmission of Zika virus among persons with possible Zika virus exposure – United States, August 2018
|Exposure Scenario||Recommendations (update status)|
|Only the male partner travels to an area with risk for Zika virus transmission and couple planning to conceive||The couple should use condoms or abstain from sex for at least 3 months after the male partner’s symptom onset (if symptomatic) or last possible Zika virus exposure (if asymptomatic).
|Only the female partner travels to an area with risk for Zika virus transmission and couple planning to conceive||The couple should use condoms or abstain from sex for at least 2 months (8 weeks) after the female partner’s symptom onset (if symptomatic) or last possible Zika virus exposure (if asymptomatic).
(No change in recommendation)
|Both partners travel to an area with risk for Zika virus transmission and couple planning to conceive||The couple should use condoms or abstain from sex for at least 3 months from the male partner’s symptom onset (if symptomatic) or last possible Zika virus exposure (if asymptomatic).
|One or both partners have ongoing exposure (i.e., live in or frequently travel to an area with risk for Zika virus transmission) and couple planning to conceive||The couple should talk with their health care provider about their plans for pregnancy, their risk for Zika virus infection, the possible health effects of Zika virus infection on a baby, and ways to protect themselves from Zika. If either partner develops symptoms of Zika virus infection or test positive for Zika virus infection, the couple should follow the suggested timeframes listed above before trying to conceive.
(No change in recommendation)
|Men with possible Zika virus exposure whose partner is pregnant||The couple should use condoms or abstain from sex for the duration of pregnancy.
(No change in recommendation)
Source: Polen, KD, Gilboa SM, Hills S, Oduyebo T, Kohl KS, Brooks JT, et al. Update: Interim Guidance for Preconception Counseling and Prevention of Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus for Men with Possible Zika Virus Exposure – United States, August 2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 67:868-71
- Attention to lifestyle can improve fertility and your chance of having a healthy baby.
- Micronutrient (folic acid, iodine and vitamin D) supplements pre-conception and during pregnancy
- Eating well before pregnancy linked to lower birth defect risk
- Body mass index (BMI)
- Effects of caffeine, alcohol and smoking on reproductive outcomes