Preparing For Pregnancy

The Healthy Living Mum-To-Be Guide

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The lifestyle I lead can't be that important can it?

So, you've had a tough day. You come home and reach for a glass of wine and a bar of chocolate - there's no harm in that if you're trying to get pregnant, surely?

It can be easy to think that what you eat, drink and get up to every day has very little effect on your fertility. However, there has been medical research showing that your diet and lifestyle are very important and have a real impact on your ability to make a baby.

When it comes to nutrition, the good news is that the better your diet, the better your chances of conceiving a healthy baby. And, if you get into good habits now, these will stay with you for life. The healthier and fitter you are when you conceive, the better your body will cope with being pregnant.

You have to sacrifice a lot when you become a mum - your body will go through huge changes and you'll no longer be able to do what you want, whenever you want. The reality is that if you're trying to get pregnant then you need to put your future baby first by eating healthily, taking the right supplements, trying to exercise regularly and by stopping smoking, drinking and taking recreational drugs.

What should I be eating?

You hear doctors, the newspapers and celebrities constantly talking about healthy eating, but what does that actually mean? A healthy, well-balanced diet should include all of the main food groups:

  • Fruit and vegetables - aim for 5 portions a day to lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and osteoporosis.
  • Carbohydrates - to give you lots of energy and nutrients. Carbohydrates are found in starchy foods. Try to eat wholemeal bread and wholegrain rice, pasta and cereals.
  • Protein - to help your body grow and repair itself. Protein comes from meat, fish, eggs and beans. Aim to eat mainly lean meats with  the occasional red meat indulgence (such as a beautiful steak, which is rich in iron).
  • Dairy - choose low-fat milk (skimmed or semi-skimmed), unsweetened yogurts and small quantities of cheese.
  • Only a very small amount of foods that are high in sugar and fat (like that chocolate bar!).

About one third of your daily diet should be made up of carbohydrates and another third should be fruit and vegetables. The final third should be made up of protein and dairy foods.

To maximise your fertility, you will want to ensure your diet includes the following vitamins and minerals:

  • Folic acid - It is really important to make sure you are taking daily folic acid supplements if you are trying to get pregnant because it has been proven to dramatically reduce the chance of your baby developing a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida. You should aim to be taking folic acid for one month before conceiving and continue taking it for the first three months of pregnancy. You can buy folic acid supplements, in the recommended daily dose of 400 micrograms ('g) from any chemist. There's no harm in also eating foods rich in the natural form of folic acid (called folate). Find it in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, sprouts, papaya and jacket potatoes, but be aware that as much of half of the folates in food can be lost through cooking or storage.
  • Vitamin B12 - found in meat, fish, eggs and milk. Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products and is vital for developing a baby's brain, nervous system and blood cells. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you will need to take a vitamin B12 supplement.

Is there anything I shouldn't be eating or drinking?

If you're a coffee or tea drinker, try to make sure you don't drink any more than 3 cups a day from now on. Caffeine is thought to reduce your fertility, but generally experts agree that low to moderate amounts should be ok.

Cut down on your drinking and ideally don't drink at all. A fertilised egg implants itself into the wall of your womb around 10 to 14 days after you have conceived - often this is before you even know you are pregnant. But from this moment on, your baby will be getting all of its nutrients from your blood.

Mercury can be found in high levels in some fish, such as swordfish, king mackerel, shark, tilefish and tuna. Mercury is harmful and can build up and stay in your body for up to a year, so it is best to avoid it before and during your pregnancy. Fish is really good for you though, so don't cut it out, just try and eat fish with lower mercury levels (like salmon) once or twice a week.

What else will help my fertility?

The benefits of exercising regularly are endless. Think about going for a half an hour walk every day; it not only does your heart and waistline good but it clears your head too. Now might also be a good time to start a low-impact exercise class, like yoga or aqua aerobics. These are great for your fitness and sense of well-being and you can keep them up during your pregnancy too.

Lastly, if you're a smoker, what better time to quit then when you are hoping to become a mum? If you smoke, or are a passive smoker, scientists have found that it takes longer to get pregnant. Also, if you smoke during your pregnancy there are very serious health risks for you and your unborn baby. If your partner smokes, he will damage his sperm, reducing its quality and quantity. How about you and your partner try to give up together? There is a lot of support out there to help you quit - why not take a look at the NHS SMOKEFREE website for more information?

It is just as important that your partner adopts a healthy diet and lifestyle as well as you, so that he will be producing healthy sperm when you conceive. Get him to read how to be a Healthy-Living Dad-To-Be.

The fact that you've read this article shows that you want to be a great mother. Living a healthy lifestyle means you'll be in the best shape for your role as Mummy.

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This internet site provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. If you have any concerns about your own health or the health of your child, you should always consult a doctor or other healthcare professional.