Silverbirch Medical Practice, Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland

Planning for pregnancy

If you and your partner are thinking of starting a family there are a few main points which will help towards a happy, healthy pregnancy.

General health - important tips

It is important when planning your pregnancy to ensure that you are protected from certain diseases, which may affect you and the baby later. German measles (rubella) is the most important one to be immune to, a simple blood test will identify whether or not you should be immunised. If you need to be immunised against rubella it is very important that you allow 3 months between the injection and trying to start a family.

A visit to the practice nurse for a cervical smear is a very good idea when planning a baby; some conditions if not treated beforehand are difficult to resolve during pregnancy.

Check your weight at the start of your planning; being as near your ideal weight as possible will make carrying much easier, and getting your shape back afterwards will not be so difficult.

Diet

Eating a normal healthy diet with at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day is a good start. By increasing the amounts of food with good folic acid content, you will naturally help the health of the baby inside the womb.

Folic acid

A lack of folic acid in the diet has been linked to cases of spina bifida. You should take a 400 mcg folic acid tablet every day while you are trying to get pregnant and until you are 12 weeks pregnant.  

You can get pregnancy supplements from pharmacies and supermarkets.  If you want to get your folic acid from a multivitamin tablet, make sure that the tablet does not contain vitamin A (or retinol) as too much Vitamin A could harm your baby.

Some women have an increased risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect, and are advised to take a higher dose of 5 mg of folic acid each day until they are 12 weeks pregnant.  Women have an increased risk if:

  • they or their partner have a neural tube defect
  • they have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
  • they or their partner have a family history of neural tube defects
  • they have diabetes  
  • they are taking anti-epileptic drugs for any indication (50% of women are prescribed anti-epileptic drugs for non-epileptic conditions)
  • they have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 
  • they have coeliac disease
  • they have thalassaemia

In addition, women who are taking anti-epileptic medication should consult their GP for advice before trying to get pregnant, as they may also need to take a higher dose of folic acid or have adjustments made to their medication. 

If any of the above applies to you, talk to your GP as they can give you a prescription for the folic acid 5 mg tablets.

If you have a low income or are in receipt of certain benefits you may qualify for free vitamins from Healthy Start

More information on Vitamins, supplements and nutrition in pregnancy

Vitamin D

All adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, need 10 micrograms (10mcg) of vitamin D a day.

As vitamin D is found only in a small number of foods, whether naturally or added, it might be difficult to get enough from foods alone.  So everyone over the age of five years, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D.

You can get pregnancy supplements from pharmacies and supermarkets.  If you want to get your Vitamin D from a multivitamin tablet, make sure that the tablet does not contain vitamin A (or retinol) as too much Vitamin A could harm your baby.

If you have a low income or are in receipt of certain benefits you may qualify for free vitamins from Healthy Start.

More information on Vitamins, supplements and nutrition in pregnancy

Alcohol

If you have an alcoholic drink during pregnancy your baby is having one too. Regular drinking whilst pregnant is not recommended, so limit yourself to the absolute minimum, preferably none.

Smoking

Some research has linked the increase of childhood Asthma and other respiratory conditions with smoking. Try and give up smoking prior to getting pregnant, this gives you and your baby a chance to be happy and healthier. If you need help to stop smoking make an appointment to speak to your doctor about the best options for you.

Exercise

Walking, swimming, dancing; all these forms of exercise will help to keep you fit during pregnancy. Ask the surgery or check the notice boards for any group activities so that you can be with other expectant mothers to socialise and talk about the important things.

Congratulations you are pregnant

If you have missed a period and think you might be pregnant you should have a pregnancy test. These can be bought from your local supermarket or pharmacy.

Once you have confirmed that you are pregnant you should book an appointment with the doctor to discuss your medical history and get advice on keeping yourself and the baby healthy throughout your pregnancy.

All pregnant women should take a folic acid and vitamin D supplement. You will also be offered a pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine after week 16 of pregnancy. This is to provide protection to your baby when it is born.

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