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10 health tips for planning a pregnancy – a doctor’s advice

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP, Livi
If you’re planning a pregnancy, the advice about fertility and trying for a baby can be overwhelming. Our Lead GP at Livi, Dr Rhianna McClymont, shares her tips on taking the first steps by looking after you and your partner’s health

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We know that everyone’s journey to getting pregnant is different. Understanding how you can improve your health, fertility and chances of falling pregnant naturally is the best place to start.

‘While there are some things out of your control when it comes to your fertility and falling pregnant, there’s lots you can do to improve your health at the beginning of your journey,’ says Dr Rhianna McClymont.

Facts about fertility

According to figures from the NHS, if you’re under 40 and have regular sex without using contraception, there’s an 8 in 10 chance you’ll get pregnant within a year.

But we know that fertility declines with age, and more significantly after the age of 35 – this is because of a decreasing number and quality of eggs. Male fertility also declines gradually with age.

Lots of people also experience fertility issues when trying for a baby, for a variety of reasons. The latest figures show that 1 in 7 couples have difficulty conceiving – approximately 3.5 million people in the UK.

Although this can be distressing, there’s lots of help available – and it’s not uncommon for falling pregnant to take longer than you may expect. ‘It’s good to know that falling pregnant is a numbers game, to some extent. A young, healthy couple has around an 80% chance of conceiving within one year. And at least half of those that don’t conceive, likely will the following year,’ Dr McClymont reassures.

Where’s the best place to start with boosting fertility?

1. Know your fertile days

If you haven’t started to already, get to know your menstrual cycle by making a note of how long your cycle usually lasts. This will help you track the 6 ‘fertile days’ where conception is more likely to happen.

These are the 5 days before ovulation happens and the day afterwards. Keeping an eye on your cycle’s length, regular pattern and cervical mucus changes helps you identify your fertile days. Remember that ovulation can vary from month to month, even if you have a regular cycle.

For a more accurate idea of when you’re ovulating, you can buy over-the-counter ovulation kits to help find your fertile window. Like with most things, it’s always best to start with natural methods if you can.

2. Have lots of sex

It may seem obvious, but one of the best ways to increase fertility is to have sex regularly (2-3 times a week).

‘Sex every other day during the fertile window is recommended, and every 2-3 days throughout your cycle if you’re unsure when your fertile window is,’ says Dr Rhianna McClymont.

Long periods of not having sex can reduce the number and quality of sperm, so try and make sex (a fun) part of your weekly routine. Although there are theories about which sexual position is better for conceiving, there’s no evidence to back this up.

3. Stay fit and active

Exercising regularly gives you lots of important health benefits as well as boosting fertility. Although, it’s best to avoid excessive amounts of exercise or very strenuous workouts, as too much exercise can actually have negative effects on your ovulation.

4. Aim for a healthy BMI

A healthy BMI is between 18.5-25 – and so it’s best to be somewhere in the middle. Being overweight or obese can reduce your fertility as well as delay ovulation. Women with a BMI of more than 30 may take longer to conceive.

Fertility is also affected if you’re underweight, as this can lead to problems with ovulation.

If you’re worried about your weight, you can get support from a GP or dietician to help you get as healthy as possible when trying to get pregnant.

5. Take a prenatal supplement

Prenatal supplements are another recommended way to help improve your fertility. They also benefit early development of the embryo and reduce the chances of problems like spina bifida. These supplements mainly consist of folic acid (0.4 mg) – this is something women are recommended to take at least 12 weeks before pregnancy.

Vitamin D is another recommended vitamin to take for fertility, and lots of prenatal supplements will include this too.

6. Stop smoking

Smoking reduces your chances of falling pregnant naturally, and this includes e-cigarettes. Smoking affects both male and female fertility so we recommend that you and your partner stop smoking before trying for a baby. You can get lots of support and advice on quitting from a GP.

7. Cut down alcohol and caffeine

If you’re trying to get pregnant naturally, it’s always a good idea to limit the amount of alcohol and caffeine you’re drinking. Healthy limits for women are between 1-2 units of alcohol a week and 1-2 coffees a day. It’s even better to stop drinking alcohol completely.

8. Consider your contraception

Many women can get pregnant immediately after stopping hormonal contraception, but for others it can take longer for their periods to regulate.

‘If you’re using the combined contraceptive pill at the moment, and are planning ahead about trying for a baby, you may want to consider changing your contraception as it can take up to 3 months for regular periods to return,’ says Dr McClymont.

‘Similarly, if you’re using the contraceptive injection it can take a little while, sometimes up to a year for regular periods to return.’

9. Choose sperm-friendly lubricant

Something that may seem a little less obvious to think about is your choice of lubricant, if you use one. Lots of lubricants contain spermicide which are designed to kill or slow down sperm and stop them from reaching an egg. Even lubricants that do not contain spermicide may significantly impede a sperm’s motility.

Look instead for a lubricant that mentions it’s ‘sperm-friendly’ on the packaging.

10. Try not to worry

Don’t panic if it doesn’t happen immediately. If you don’t fall pregnant straight away, it doesn’t mean there’s a problem. It’s considered perfectly normal for it to take up to a year to conceive a baby.

What if I’m finding it difficult to get pregnant naturally?

Doctors usually advise to wait at least a year while having regular sex without contraception, before discussing fertility tests or treatment.

‘If you’ve been trying to conceive for a year and haven’t been successful then a GP can arrange tests for you which would normally include blood tests, a screen for sexual infections and sperm analysis for your partner,’ says Dr McClymont.

‘Depending on your medical history you may also be offered an ultrasound scan and referred to a fertility clinic for further treatment.’

When to speak to a GP about fertility

  • You’ve been trying for a baby for more than a year
  • You’re aged 36 or over and want to try for a baby soon
  • You take regular medication and want to get pregnant
  • You have a long term medical condition like diabetes
  • There’s a risk of passing on a medical condition like sickle cell disease
  • You or your partner have a known or undiagnosed fertility issue like endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or a low sperm count
  • You’re worried you or your partner may have an undiagnosed medical issue that’s affecting your ability to fall pregnant.

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