Thinking about starting a family or having another child? Dr Joe Kosterich talks about the things to do before getting pregnant and factors that affect fertility, including looking after your fitness, diet and stress levels.

Video: Female fertilityGetting pregnant has been going on for a long time: it pre-dates doctors, hospitals and technology – it is just part of nature. If it wasn’t then none of us would be here, however, there are some things that we can do in the modern age that can increase our chances and make it more likely that we will have a healthy baby.

There are some basic things to think about that are not that difficult. What’s been shown recently is that just being relatively physically fit – you don’t have to be super athletic, but just in relatively good shape – and eating reasonably well, are probably two of the most important things in relation to getting pregnant. Certainly fertility in women is reduced by things like being overweight, smoking and excess alcohol can also reduce fertility.

Another thing that can also impact fertility is stress. In fact, a recent study showed a connection between stress and getting pregnant: The women who were more stressed took longer to get pregnant. If you think about it, that’s not surprising because in historical times stress usually meant there wasn’t enough food or that there were too many predators around, and that’s not the sort of environment where you want to produce more mouths to feed. Fortunately today, we’re not in that situation but the body still reacts to stress in much the same way.

So we have spoken about the simple things. A few other things to think about should include going to your GP and maybe getting things like your iron levels checked, or perhaps a couple of other blood tests might be appropriate. Also it’s a good idea to get your blood pressure checked as well.

For women, starting to take folate or folic acid in the three months leading up to getting pregnant is a good idea, but you can’t always time these things perfectly. Folic acids has shown to reduce the chance of spinal cord disorders, such as spina bifida. If you do smoke, it’s a good idea to give up anyway, but if you’re planning on getting pregnant, even more so. Once again if you’re looking at getting pregnant then cutting down or cutting out alcohol would be a good thing too. As we said at the top of the video, a little bit of regular exercise coupled with sensible eating – so that doesn’t  mean no chocolate cake, but just getting fruits and vegetables – and being on a good balanced diet. These things are not only going to help you get pregnant, but are also going to be useful if you are pregnant as well.

More specific things you will need to talk about with your doctor – some women may benefit from taking iron, or if you are low in vitamin D, you should top that up. So to get back to where we started, getting pregnant and having babies is actually as old as humankind itself. So it can be done – sounds silly but it is true. There are some simple things you can do that will make it better for you and also better for baby, which we have touched on previously. Regular exercise, eating sensibly, check up with your doctor, and perhaps some appropriate supplements – it’s not as difficult as you may have been lead to believe – in fact, it’s fairly simple.

More information

Pregnancy planning For more information about pregnancy planning, including the importance of nutrition before pregnancy, being under-weight, being overweight, tobacco exposure, and alcohol consumption, see Pregnancy Planning (Preconception Advice).