July 22, 2024

Here’s everything you need to know as you prepare your body for pregnancy

As we edge into our 30s, those of us who haven’t yet reared are wondering if we should get a wiggle on. Especially when we’re told that pregnancy after 35 puts us in the band of a geriatric mother, or – gently put – an ‘advanced maternal age’ *eye roll permitted*.

For some, it’s a straightforward – decision, deed, done. For others, the process ends up being more akin to stepping into a labyrinth. But, hopefully (if baby making is your aim), at some point, in some way, someone’s sperm meets someone’s egg, and new life will begin.

We think that’s right. Actually, to be honest, we’re not really that clued up on the whole ‘pregnancy’ thing beyond how to prevent it. Awkward teachers with bananas and condoms are forever burned onto our retinas, as are the words ‘booze is bad for the bump’, but pregnancy preparation? Not a clue.

Surely we can do better than simply steering clear of spirits the moment a test shows up as positive? No, if we’re going to do this, we want to do it right. Just…tell us how.

Here's everything you need to know as you prepare your body for pregnancy

To shed some light on the subject, we speak to to Director of Harley Street Fertility Clinic, Dr Geetha Venkat, MBBS, DGO, MD, FRCOG (no, not frog, FRCOG. It means she’s legit). Read on as we fill in the gaps on all those unanswered questions. What should we be eating? Is exercising bad? and what actually is folic acid?

Future child, we’re almost ready for you…

I’ve decided to try for a baby. What should be first on my list?

To give your child the very best start in life, you need to be in good health yourself. Being a healthy weight (not over or under) will improve your chances of conceiving, eating a nutritious diet and drinking plenty of water is also a step in the right direction. You should try to minimise stress in your life and be sure to exercise and sleep well.

How long does it take for contraception to leave your system?

Like so many things with the human body, everyone is different. While many women will start to ovulate within weeks, for others it can be two to three months, or even longer. Give it time, see how you go and if you are worried, speak to your GP or family planning nurse.

Is it true that fertility spikes immediately after coming off the pill?

This is not the case. In fact, it takes time for the effect of the pill to wear off and the ovaries to start regular cycles again.

What should I be avoiding?

Smoking can reduce fertility in both women and men, and it is dangerous to smoke when you are pregnant, so kick the habit now. You should also try to minimise alcohol and caffeine intake as these will impact your fertility. It should go without saying that recreational drugs should be completely avoided. For some people, trying to conceive can be stressful but this won’t help you to get pregnant, so try to keep relaxed when you can. Maybe look at your job and how much stress this causes, start to do a little meditation or yoga which can help you focus on your breathing and being in the here and now, and generally look after your mental health.

Should I switch up my diet?

A balanced diet is really a given and not only will it help with getting pregnant, if you nourish your body well, this will help you during your pregnancy. Generally, a high fibre and high protein diet are what you should aim for. A diet of fruit and vegetables, protein such as lean meat and pulses, wholegrains and some dairy foods that contain calcium, such as milk, yoghurt and cheese will help. You might also want to keep an eye on your iron levels – eating red meat, pulses, dried fruit, dark green vegetables and fortified cereals, will boost these.

What about exercise?

Exercise is a part of any healthy lifestyle and can certainly be helpful if you are looking to get pregnant. We aren’t saying that you need to start training for a marathon, but stepping up your activity is a good way to help boost your fertility. Even if you start to walk to work, take the stairs rather than the lift or go for a swim, find a way to get your heart going and work up a sweat. It will give you a boost of feel-good hormones, too.

When should I give up alcohol and coffee?

We would say to look at really cutting back on alcohol and coffee (actually all caffeine) if you are actively looking to get pregnant. Drinking alcohol can impact your fertility and if you drink too much when you are pregnant, that can potentially harm your baby, so start to cut down now to improve your fertility. Even better, cut it out completely.

Why is folic acid so important?

We hear a lot about folic acid and this is because it protects babies from serious conditions such as spina bifida. It is suggested that you take a 400 microgram (mcg) supplement of folic acid when you start to try for a baby and continue to do so until the 12th week of your pregnancy.

What other vitamins and supplements are important?

The Department of Health does suggest taking a vitamin D supplement when you are pregnant. We would advise you to have your vitamin D level checked and take the appropriate dose. If you are eating a well-balanced diet then there shouldn’t be a need to take any extra supplements.

Are there any supplements I should avoid?

There is nothing to avoid completely when trying. However, we would suggest you stay away from vitamin A and fish liver oil when pregnant as both could potentially harm your baby.

What can men do to increase their chances of being fertile?

We would say that men need to follow the same path as their partner – a nutritious diet, regular exercise, cutting down on alcohol and quitting smoking. It is also a good idea for men to keep their testicles cool, so that their sperm is in optimum condition. Sitting down for a long-time, using a laptop on your lap and working in a hot environment can all impact sperm production. It is also a good idea to wear loose fitting underwear, as some say tighter options can contribute to fertility issues.

How long does it take to get pregnant?

Everyone is different and you can’t compare yourself to family and friends. Some women will get pregnant straight away, for others it could be up to a year. In some cases, there are problems and medical intervention is needed. As with all pregnancy issues, keeping as relaxed as you can helps, having regular sex is a given, and if you are worried that there could be a problem, then it is worth speaking to a specialist and having a fertility check-up.

What is your most fertile age?

Women are most fertile between the ages of 20 and 24. Lifestyles and careers can put pregnancy plans on hold, but we would say that fertility in women decreases when they get to 30, and then again from the age of 35. The reality is, if you want to conceive naturally, it can be harder when you get into your late 30s and early 40s. When it comes to men, time is slightly more on their side, but again fertility does decrease as they get older.

What is my most fertile time of the month?

Women are most fertile when they are ovulating (this is the time when eggs are released from your ovaries). If you have a 28-day cycle, ovulation takes place between 12 to 14 days before your next period starts. We would suggest that you look at your cycle and keep a note of your period dates. You can use apps for this too, but don’t get too hung up on timings or it can add to your stress levels.

Am I pregnant?

There are many signs that you could be pregnant, from sensitive breasts to feeling sick, needing to have a wee more often or being more tired than usual. However, only a pregnancy test will confirm if you are pregnant, followed up by an early pregnancy scan, typically around 7 weeks.

My pregnancy test shows positive. What next?

First of all, congratulations. We would then suggest you book an appointment with your GP. They will confirm the pregnancy then arrange for you to see a midwife, scans are booked and a care plan is put in place. Do make sure you continue to keep relaxed and look after yourself and your baby.

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