How to get your body ready for a baby

Monday, July 14, 2008
Image: Getty

Prime your body to give yourself the best chance of conceiving and to give your baby the best start to life.

In this age of contraception, ovulation predictors and knowledge of how our bodies work, there are still about 200,000 unplanned pregnancies a year in Australia. But if you're considering getting pregnant soon, you might want to think about getting your body baby-fit. Here's what women can do to get ready for pregnancy.

Get checked out
Before trying to conceive, Dr Kelton Tremellen, deputy medical director at IVF clinic Repromed in Adelaide, suggests going to your GP and making sure your general health is good. "Make sure your Pap smear is up-to-date and have a blood test to see if you're immune to rubella."

If you're on any medication, discuss this with your GP — you may need to go off it or try a new treatment before conceiving, as some types of medication can be detrimental to a foetus. For details on what medications can be taken around conception, most states have a hotline.

Take folic acid
Taking folic acid supplements and making sure that your diet contains food rich in folate can help prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, developing in your unborn baby. Medical professionals suggest women take supplements, such as Elevit, for at least a month before conceiving and then throughout the pregnancy.

Quit smoking
"A woman trying to fall pregnant has to stop smoking," warns Dr Tremellen, adding that there's a great deal of evidence that smoking decreases the chance of conceiving. "In the IVF program, if a woman smokes more than 10 cigarettes per day, the chance of her conceiving is about half compared to a non-smoking woman," he says. He recommends that a woman quits smoking altogether or, at the very least, cuts down to well below 10.

Stop drinking
Dr Tremellen says alcohol is another big no-no if you're trying to conceive. While many women may think it's okay to have a drink or two during this time, he says there is no safe minimal amount you can drink. "A Danish study found that even one glass a day increases the time it takes to conceive."

Know your body
To increase your chances of conceiving, it's a good idea to learn how to recognise the signs that you're ovulating. Noticing changes in your mucous is a good way to pick when you're most fertile (it will be thinner and more slippery during this time). You can speak with your GP or get more information from a natural family planning clinic to help you identify your fertile times.

Watch your weight
Dr Tremellen says it's vital that women planning to fall pregnant maintain a healthy weight. "If a woman's underweight, she's less likely to ovulate. If she's overweight, she's less likely to ovulate. She should aim for a normal BMI [body mass index — work it out by dividing your weight in kilos by your height in metres squared] between 20 and 25," he says, adding that the miscarriage rate also goes up if you put on too much weight.

Now is the time for moderate, not excessive, exercise. A recent study found that three or less hours of physical exercise a week doesn't affect IVF outcomes. However, four or more hours of exercise weekly resulted in an increase in pregnancy loss and a reduction in live birth rate.

Eat well
There's no magic diet guaranteed to make you super-fertile but it's worth eating a healthy range of foods — including fresh fruit, vegetables and lean meat — in preparation for pregnancy. Make sure your diet includes foods that are a good source of folate, such as green leafy vegetables. It's also a good idea to cut back on the cappuccinos: studies have shown that a high coffee intake can stop a fertilised egg from implanting, meaning that you can have a miscarriage and not even know it.

Stay clear of nasties
Diseases such as toxoplasmosis are relatively harmless to adults but can be dangerous to a developing baby. Toxoplasmosis is most often transmitted through cat poo or undercooked meat, so while trying to conceive, put your partner in charge of emptying the cat litter tray and make sure you wash your hands well after handling raw or undercooked meat.

Cut contraception
While it's obvious you need to stop taking the contraceptive pill before trying to get pregnant, you don't have to quit months in advance. "The pill doesn't have a negative effect on fertility," explains Dr Tremellen, adding that today's pill comes in such a low dose that as soon as you come off it you're fertile within the following month.

In fact, in some ways the pill can actually boost fertility. "It can help protect women against endometriosis and ovarian cysts, which can interfere with fertility," says Dr Tremellen.

On the other hand, other forms of contraception, such as the Depo-Provera injection, do linger in your system — speak to your doctor if this relates to you.

All material is © Mother & Baby: Making Babies

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