Let’s set the stage for a momentous undertaking: preparing for pregnancy.
Dr. Kaajal Singhal is here to share her top 10 tips on how to prepare for pregnancy – both body and mind, for any age.
If you’re curious about how to plan the perfect prelude to pregnancy, you’re in the right place!
So grab your notebook and start taking notes!
In this article: 📝
- How early should you prepare for pregnancy?
- 1. Start taking folic acid
- 2. Start taking vitamin D
- 3. Check your MMR vaccination status
- 4. Plan for any pre-existing medical conditions
- 5. Consider genetic testing
- 6. Book your next cervical smear test
- 7. Stop taking alcohol, smoking, or recreational drugs
- 8. Avoid certain foods
- 9. Manage your weight (whatever that means for you)
- 10. Stay active
How early should you prepare for pregnancy?
The sooner, the better.
Honestly, there’s not really any time that’s “too soon” to start preparing for pregnancy.
As long as you’ve had your first period, and you’ve gotten to know your menstrual cycle, you can start preparing your body for pregnancy now!
Knowing the ins and outs helps pinpoint your fertile window – the golden opportunity for sex while trying to conceive.
Ultimately, there is no universal “right time” when it comes to planning to get pregnant.
But starting early gives you the luxury of time and a relaxed approach to this exciting chapter.
Now, let’s get to the top 10 things you should do to prepare for pregnancy.
1. Start taking folic acid
The first tip is to take a daily supplement of folic acid as soon as possible.
Folic acid is the synthetic version of folate, a form of vitamin B9, found naturally in fruits and green veggies.
You can increase your intake of folate by eating certain fruits and greens, like spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and black-eyed peas.
But, during pregnancy, your folate requirements increase significantly (both you and baby need extra!), so you can’t get enough from your diet alone.
So a daily folic acid supplement is highly recommended.
Why is folic acid important during pregnancy?
Now for the sciencey bit.
Folate plays an important role in DNA synthesis and DNA repair pathways, fundamental for the development of healthy cells, tissues, and organs.
Folate deficiency impairs these pathways and can affect the development of the fetus’s central nervous system.
This can cause neural tube defects (NTD) where the brain or spinal cord doesn’t form properly, like spina bifida.
Evidence shows that taking folic acid in early pregnancy can decrease the risk of neural tube defects by 50-70%.
How much folic acid should I take while trying to conceive or pregnant?
The majority of pregnant women only need to take a 400-microgram daily supplement, according to the World Health Organisation.
However, there are some people who are trying to conceive or pregnant who might need to take a higher amount, like a 5-milligram daily supplement.
This usually applies to those who:
- Have a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or greater
- Have diabetes
- Have sickle cell disease
- Suffer from malabsorption like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease
- Are taking anti-epileptic medication
- Have an NTD (neural tube defect), a family history of NTD, or have had a previous pregnancy affected by NTD (or if this is applicable to their partner)
If you think you might need a higher dose of folic acid, you should speak to your doctor.
How long should I take folic acid while pregnant?
At least until 12 weeks of pregnancy.
This is because the fetal organs are formed during the first 12 weeks.
This includes the development and closure of the neural tube, which is usually completed by 28 days post-conception.
After 12 weeks of pregnancy, you can still continue to take folic acid, it just won’t affect your baby’s development.
2. Start taking vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that we obtain from sunlight and certain foods.
We naturally form a type of Vitamin D called Vitamin D3 (or cholecalciferol).
Why is vitamin D important while TTC or pregnant?
Pregnancy is classed as a risk factor for Vitamin D deficiency, as per the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
Babies obtain their Vitamin D from the mother as they cannot make their own.
They need it for the same reasons that we do.
Following birth, newborn vitamin D stores are around 60-70% of maternal stores.
Vitamin D deficiency in pregnancy can lead to poor outcomes for both mom and baby.
How much vitamin D should I take while TTC or pregnant?
Everyone, including pregnant people, should be taking a daily dose of 20 micrograms of vitamin D, through supplements and diet.
Some people are at higher risk of Vitamin D deficiency and are advised to take an increased dose of 25 micrograms of vitamin D.
This applies to those who:
- Are of South Asian or Afro-Caribbean origin
- Have a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or greater
- Have no or low sunlight exposure (for example, if they cover their skin for cultural reasons or are housebound)
If you think you might need a higher dose of vitamin D, you should speak to your doctor.
How long should I be taking vitamin D during pregnancy?
Vitamin D deficiency is currently a global health problem.
Everyone needs it, since we don’t get enough vitamin D from our diet and sunlight alone.
3. Check your MMR vaccination status
Some infections can be very harmful in pregnancy and affect the development of the baby.
This is why doctors will screen for infections during the initial blood test (like hepatitis B, HIV, and syphilis) and why certain vaccinations are recommended during or before pregnancy (like the flu vaccine and whooping cough vaccine).
But before you actually become pregnant, there is one vaccine that doctors advise you to have: the MMR vaccine, which protects against the viruses measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).
If you get rubella during pregnancy, the virus can pass to the baby and cause Congenital Rubella Syndrome, which can be harmful to baby, especially in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
It can cause heart, eye, ear, and brain defects, and even, potentially, pregnancy loss.
As the MMR is a live vaccine, getting it during pregnancy is not recommended.
This is because there is a potential risk that live vaccines can infect the baby, although there’s currently no evidence to show any safety concerns.
If you’re unsure whether you’ve already had the MMR vaccine or you’d like to book an appointment to have one, speak to your doctor.
It is generally recommended to wait one month after receiving the MMR vaccine before trying to conceive.
4. Plan for any pre-existing medical conditions
If you have a pre-existing medical condition, it’s recommended to speak with your doctor before trying to conceive.
There can be ways they can help you prepare your body and mind to increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy.
Here are a few of the more common pre-existing medical conditions to talk with your doctor about, but if you have a condition not listed below, it’s worth checking in with your doctor anyway, just in case.
If you have diabetes, let your doctor know if you’re planning on TTC, and book an appointment to check that you have good control of your sugar levels and whether any of your medications require changing.
Being pregnant releases multiple hormones that block insulin, which causes the blood sugar levels to go high.
Studies show that high sugar levels can increase the risk of adverse outcomes in pregnancy including preeclampsia, pregnancy loss, preterm birth, and congenital defects.
Many epilepsy treatments are not recommended (or in medical speak, contraindicated) in pregnancy as they cause an increased risk of congenital malformations and developmental delay.
But it’s important that you don’t stop taking your medication without discussing it with a doctor first.
Book an appointment with your doctor if you’re family planning, and they can suggest alternative medication and other considerations.
High blood pressure
Your doctor might advise you to change medications, if needed.
If you have a history of mental health illness, it’s best to speak to your doctor who can support you during your pregnancy, especially if you’re taking medication for your mental health.
As with the other pre-existing conditions, your doctor might advise you to change medications, if needed.
5. Consider genetic testing
Genetic testing offers a sneak peek into your family’s health narrative.
If there’s a history of genetic conditions, developmental surprises, or birth defects, testing can be your compass to navigate potential challenges and make informed choices.
It’s not about fortune-telling, but rather about empowering you with insights that could shape your parenting path.
You can speak with your doctor to schedule this.
6. Book your next cervical smear test
When was your last cervical smear test (aka Pap smear)?
Once you’re pregnant, you should delay your next test until at least 3 months after your baby is born.
This is because the results of the test may not be accurate due to the influence of pregnancy hormones.
But if you’re called for a repeat smear after a previous abnormality, you can still have it during pregnancy.
7. Stop taking alcohol, smoking, or recreational drugs
If you feel you need some support to help with this, you should see your doctor for advice, and, ideally, postpone your pregnancy.
8. Avoid certain foods
There are certain foods you should avoid during pregnancy.
This is due to the risk of infection which can be harmful to you and baby.
Some of the main foods to avoid while TTC or pregnant are:
- Soft cheeses and unpasteurized milk products. This is due to a risk of a bacterial infection called listeriosis which can cause pregnancy loss or stillbirth.
- Smoked or raw fish, cold pre-cooked meat, deli meats (linked to listeria in many countries).
- Raw sprouts and pre-cut fruit or vegetables (also linked to listeria).
- Any raw or undercooked meat, liver, pâté, or game meat. They might contain a parasite called toxoplasmosis which can cause brain or eye defects in your baby.
- Liver, since it contains higher amounts of vitamin A, which can cause congenital malformations.
- Game meat which contains lead, and can be linked to preeclampsia.
- Raw and undercooked eggs. These can have salmonella, which can cause food poisoning.
9. Manage your weight (whatever that means for you)
Having an “ideal” BMI (typically between 18.5 and 24.9) can improve your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Studies have shown that having an underweight BMI can affect your fertility and increase your risk of complications during pregnancy, like:
- Pregnancy loss
- Preterm birth
- Low birth weight
Studies have also shown that having an overweight BMI can affect your fertility and increase your risk of complications during pregnancy, like:
- Preeclampsia and high blood pressure
- Blood clots
- Preterm birth
- Emergency C-section
If you feel that you need some support to help with your weight, have a chat with your doctor for advice.
10. Stay active
You should try to stay as active as possible while trying to conceive and during pregnancy, in a way that feels right for you.
Exercise in pregnancy is safe and important for the well-being of you and your baby!
Studies show that exercise can even help prevent pregnancy-related problems like high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, and blood clots.
But, once pregnant, contact sports or very heavy exercise should generally be avoided – as always, if you’re unsure, chat with your doctor.
And, most importantly, breathe!
This is a lot of information to take in one go.
Take it in bit by bit if you need to.
You’ve got this!
And if you want to connect with other women who have been there or are going through it all right there with you, join us on Peanut.
We’re having the conversation.