Planning a pregnancy means that you have time to get as healthy as you can, as well as to learn about your menstrual cycle and when your fertile times are in order to increase your chances of falling pregnant.
If you are thinking about having a baby, you can find local ACT information and resources to help you plan and prepare for a healthy pregnancy in our Having A Baby In Canberra information. You will also find information there about fertility and IVF and genetic counselling, and information for same sex couples.
Before you get pregnant there some important things that you need to do.
1. See your GP
When you are planning a pregnancy is the best time to see your GP to discuss all the issues, and to make sure that you are in the best of health. If you don’t have a regular GP now is the time to find one. A GP is very important both during pregnancy and after you have had your baby.
2. Check that you are up to date with your immunisations.
Measles, mumps, rubella vaccine: German Measles (rubella) is an illness that if contracted during pregnancy can cause serious abnormalities, such as deafness and blindness in the baby. You may have been vaccinated in the past, however the immunity can fade. A simple blood test can check your immunity and you can be re-vaccinated if needed. You should not get pregnant within 4 weeks of being revaccinated.
Chickenpox vaccine: Chickenpox (varicella) can cause serious illness in you and your baby. A simple blood test can detect if you are immune. If not a short course of two vaccinations can be given that will protect you. You should not get pregnant within 4 weeks of being vaccinated.
Pneumococcal vaccine: Protection against serious illness caused by pneumococcal disease is recommended for women who are smokers or who have chronic heart, lung or kidney disease, or diabetes.
Whooping cough vaccine: Whooping cough (pertussis) can cause very serious illness and even death in babies who are less than 6 months old. It is now recommended that all pregnant women receive a whooping cough vaccination when they are between 20 and 32 weeks pregnant. A combination of antibodies being passed through the mother’s bloodstream, and the reduced risk of the mother contracting the disease makes this an ideal time to administer the vaccine.
Flu vaccine: Influenza (flu) can cause serious illness and we know that being pregnant increases the risk of flu complications, with the risk of serious complications being up to 5 times higher in pregnant women. Because of this, the flu vaccine is recommended and free for all pregnant women.
3. Check for sexually transmissible infections.
Some sexually transmissible infections (STIs) can cause serious illnesses in babies. If you have never had a test for STIs or have had a change of sexual partner since you last had a test for STIs, now is a good time to have one. You can have an STI screen at a sexual health clinic, family planning clinic, or with your GP. For more information on STIs see our section on sexually transmissible infections.
4. Start taking a daily folate supplement.
Folate (also known as folic acid) is one of the B-group vitamins and is essential for the healthy development of a foetus in early pregnancy. Folate can reduce the incidence of serious defects known as neural tube defects (such as spina bifida). While folate is found naturally in foods, such as leafy green vegetables, broccoli, brussel sprouts, oranges, bananas, strawberries, and legumes, most women do not eat enough in their diet so taking a supplement is very important and always recommended. Taking 0.5mg (500mcg) of folate daily for 12 weeks before conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy is advised. Folate is available in tablet form from any pharmacy. In some women, for example women with diabetes or epilepsy, a higher dose of folic acid may be recommended, if this is the case talk to your GP.
5. Stop smoking, avoid social drugs, and avoid alcohol.
Smoking is well known to be very harmful to both you and your baby. Smokers take longer to fall pregnant, have more miscarriages, premature babies, and still births. Ask your GP for help to quit or call the Quitline on 134878. If you have a partner who smokes now is the time for them to stop smoking too. Passive smoking (secondhand smoke) is also very harmful to both pregnant women, and their baby.
Social drugs such as MDMA, LSD, K, cocaine, heroin, ice, and even marijuana can cause serious harm to a developing baby and should be avoided throughout pregnancy. Pre-pregnancy is the best time to stop or reduce your use. If you need support with this talk to your GP.
Alcohol consumed in pregnancy can cause very serious and permanent brain damage in babies, alcohol should be avoided completely while you are trying to conceive and when you are pregnant.
6. Eat a healthy balanced diet.
Eating a healthy balanced diet, which include all the recommended food groups, and which is rich in vegetables, fruit, and whole foods increases your chance of conceiving and will also mean that you are in the best shape you can be before you become pregnant.
7. See your dentist for a check-up.
Dental disease and gum inflammation can increase the risk of premature birth so get a dental check-up now. It is best to have any x-rays or fillings done before you are pregnant.
8. Check that any medications are safe in pregnancy.
If you are taking any regular medications check with your GP or pharmacist about whether they are safe to use in pregnancy. This includes any vitamin supplements and herbal preparations.
9. Get moving with regular exercise.
The healthier you are the healthier you will be in pregnancy. Women who are in a healthy weight range find it easier to become pregnant and have fewer problems during pregnancy.
10. Get your partner involved.
Get your partner involved in improving their health too. It is important that your partner also has a healthy diet, exercises, stops smoking, and reduces alcohol intake as these things will all help improve your chances of achieving a healthy pregnancy.
Remember that the health of a male partner will influence your chances of getting pregnant – for example smoking affects sperm quality as well as general health.