Preparing for pregnancy
The majority of us enjoy having sex, so becoming pregnant should be one of the most natural things in the world. When you start thinking about becoming pregnant you should take a look at your health and that of your partner. Try to give yourselves three months to prepare for pregnancy, during which time you should try to be as healthy as possible and cut down on all your bad habits.
Your partner will also need to be careful. Sperm take around three months to develop and you will want to ensure they’re as active as possible. Having a child is the most important decision you will ever make, so a little preplanning will help get your baby off to the best possible start.
Every year babies are born with unnecessary health problems. These problems are usually due to the fitness and nutrition of the mother. Paying attention to nutrition before and during your pregnancy will benefit your unborn baby by giving your body a store of nutrients. You shouldn’t eat more food when you are pregnant but you should be aware of the nutrients present in the foods that you choose to eat. You can improve your health almost immediately by taking folic acid tablets until you are in the 12th week of pregnancy.
Suggestions for a healthy diet :
- Fresh fruit, salad and vegetables are all excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre so try to eat at least 5 portions every day. Remember do not over cook vegetables, as this destroys the vitamin C content.
- The basis of your diet should be starchy foods like wholemeal bread, pasta, potatoes, rice and cereals. They provide important vitamins and fibre but don’t contain many calories.
- Lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs and pulses are all good sources of protein and you should try to eat 2 portions of these each day.
- Oily fish such as kippers, herring and sardines contain vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium.
- Eat some calcium rich dairy products each day – cheese, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and yoghurt.
- Try to consume less sugary foods. Extra calories will not provide any valuable nutrients.
- Cut down on salt and fatty foods.
- Avoid unpasteurised cheeses (e.g. brie, stilton), under-cooked meat, paté, and raw or lightly boiled eggs as they may contain bacteria such as listeria and salmonella.
- High levels of vitamin A can cause birth defects so it is best to avoid liver, liver products and cod liver oil.
- Processed foods contain a lot of sugar, salt and fat so should be avoided.
If you are fit before you fall pregnant it will stop you feeling tired as your pregnancy progresses and will keep your weight gain within a sensible limit. Just because you are pregnant does not mean you should stop taking exercise. Some exercise is good for you during pregnancy. Exercise will help keep your body in good physical condition and improve muscle tone and posture.
Don’t do too much exercise though, as you will tend to be more tired than usual. Pregnancy is one of the times in your life when you need to have adequate rest. Pregnancy, labour and delivery will make great demands on your body, so the more you can prepare yourself physically the better.
There are several sports that you can do as long as when you are tired, you remember to stop. These include, walking, swimming and dancing – riding and skiing are probably best avoided. Remember, when you are out of breath, your baby is deprived of oxygen.
Before you attempt to become pregnant, you should visit your doctor to make sure you have had all your necessary immunizations. Ensure you have had a vaccination for German measles before you try to conceive. German measles is a viral illness that can cause a miscarriage or disabilities (e.g. blindness) in your baby. If you do need a German measles immunization it must be done at least 3 months before you try to become pregnant.
Smoking, alcohol and drugs/medications
The most important thing you can do for your baby’s health is to stopsmoking. If you smoke you may triple your chances of not being able to conceive. Smoking in general is a major health hazard but if you smoke during pregnancy or inhale smoke from others, you are depriving your unborn baby of oxygen. Babies of smoking parents are more likely to be born prematurely and have a low birth weight, which can make your new born much more vulnerable to infections in the first few weeks. Smoking also increases the chances of you having a miscarriage, a stillbirth or a baby with malformations. Doctors have also found that smoking is one of the single most important risk factors involved in cot death.
Many women often say that they go off alcohol whilst pregnant. Even if you have an occasional drink it won’t do you or your baby any harm. However, regular heavy drinking will cause problems. As no one knows how much is a safe amount to drink it would be best to give up alcohol all together. If you do like to have an alcoholic drink, try to drink no more than two units of alcohol once or twice a week.
Many drugs pass into your baby’s blood stream from your own. Some antibiotics are quite harmless and can be used to treat your baby for certain conditions, but don’t take any medicines that haven’t been prescribed by your doctor, who knows you are pregnant.
If you were taking the oral contraceptive pill you should wait 3 months before trying to become pregnant. Paracetamol and simple indigestion remedies are safe to take, but it is always best to speak to your mid-wife, doctor or pharmacist beforehand. Street drugs (drugs of abuse) should always be avoided during pregnancy. Smoking cocaine can cause a serious decrease in your baby’s oxygen supply and babies born to mother’s who are addicted to heroin, may also be addicted at birth.
Toxoplasmosis is a infection which can be passed on to an unborn baby from the Mother and can cause damage to the baby’s brain, eyes and other organs. The organism that causes this infection is found in raw meats and cat faeces. To avoid infection with toxoplasmosis:
- Wear gloves when gardening or changing cat litter.
- Wash your hands after gardening, handling cats or raw meats.
- Only eat meat which has been cooked thoroughly.
Early signs of pregnancy
The first sign that you might be pregnant is a missed or even a very light period.
Other signs you may be pregnant include:
- Feeling of nausea at any time of the day. Morning sickness is often one of the first signs of pregnancy. Usually it disappears by about week 12, it sometimes helps to eat something dry and bland like a rich tea biscuit when you wake up.
- Craving of certain foods – perhaps this might include foods you have never liked.
- Change in taste – you may go off certain foods you once enjoyed.
- Breasts may become larger and sore or tender.
- The need to pass urine more often.
- Metallic or inky taste in your mouth.
- Increased tiredness which may lead to dizziness.
- An increase in vaginal discharge, this should be clear or white and should not have any smell to it. We have a test on this website to help identify the cause of abnormal discharge, for more information or to buy click here.
As soon as you think that you are pregnant arrange to see your doctor so that you can start to have antenatal care in good time.
Length of pregnancy
Pregnancy lasts approximately 266 days / 40 weeks from the moment the egg is fertilized (it is usually quite difficult to pinpoint this precisely). The average pregnancy lasts approximately 38 – 42 weeks.
Points to remember during your pregnancy:
- The baby is most vulnerable during the first eight weeks of pregnancy.
- Between weeks 16 and 22 you will feel the baby move for the first time.
- By 24 weeks a baby is sufficiently well developed to survive if born prematurely.
- In the final 10 weeks of the pregnancy the baby gains weight, increasing as much as 25 grams a day.