Here’s something you might never have considered – Your pre-pregnancy health can determine the lifelong health of your baby.
With that in mind, here are some tips written by fertility specialist, Dr Lim Min Yu, for getting pregnant and during your pregnancy.
Diet and Lifestyle Tips
1. Take folic acid
Taking folic acid reduces the chance of your baby being born with a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida.
Start taking folic acid (400 micrograms/day) once you decide to start trying for a baby, so that the level of folic acid in your blood will be steady once you do conceive. Some women with medical issues such as diabetes or epilepsy, or have previously had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect, will be recommended to take 5 milligrams/day instead.
2. Have a healthy, balanced diet
A one-size-fits-all fertility diet might not exist, but eating a variety of healthy food can help prepare you for pregnancy. This means eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, dairy and healthy sources of fat – which will give you adequate stores of critical nutrients such as calcium, protein and iron.
When trying to get pregnant, eat lower amounts of high-mercury fish, such as swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tuna, as babies that are exposed to mercury in the womb can have brain damage, and hearing and vision problems.
3. Aim to be a healthy weight
Women who are overweight or underweight can have difficulty in becoming pregnant, as the chances of not ovulating regularly is higher. The ideal BMI range for women in Singapore is 18-23. Use this calculator to find out your BMI.
Healthy eating and regular exercise is the best way to lose weight. An intense crash diet is likely to do more harm than good, even if your BMI is outside the ideal range!
Your doctor can refer you to a dietician for healthy eating advice if necessary. Similarly, a dietician can offer advice on a diet to gain weight if you are underweight.
4. Reduce caffeine intake
Consuming more than 500 milligrams/day of caffeine (4 cups or more) has been linked with a decrease in fertility in women.
Don’t worry! Having 1 to 2 cups of coffee, or less than 250 milligrams/day of caffeine appears to have no impact on the likelihood of conception, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine¹.
5. Stop alcohol consumption
Alcohol has well-documented effects on fetal development. Hence, since you won’t know if you’re pregnant for the first few weeks, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether when you’re trying to conceive.
In contrast, there’s good news for men – drinking alcohol has no documented effects on semen.² But you might want to stop as well, out of solidarity to your partner!
6. Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke
Smoking can lead to fertility problems in both women and men. Studies have shown that smoking 10 cigarettes a day reduces a woman’s chances of conceiving by 50 percent. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, chemicals found in cigarette smoke, such as nicotine and carbon monoxide, speed up the rate at which a woman’s eggs are lost.³
In men, smoking has been shown to reduce all parameters in semen quality, such as count, motility and morphology. There is also increased sperm DNA fragmentation, which is associated with reduced fertility.
Secondhand smoke should also be avoided as the effects are similarly harmful.
7. Have sex 2-3 times a week
After ovulation, if your egg isn’t fertilised within 24 hours, it will die. Sperm, on the other hand, can survive for at least 2 to 3 days within the female reproductive system. This is why the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advise that couples who are trying to conceive have sexual intercourse every 2 to 3 days.⁴
8. There’s an app for that (but many are wrong!)
There are many smartphone apps and websites that offer cycle tracking and prediction of a woman’s fertile window. However, a study from Weill Cornell Medicine in New York⁵, showed that less than 10% of these apps and websites accurately predicted the fertile period! If in doubt, share your app with your doctor. Many of these apps can be customised, so it might be a simple case of adjusting the window.
Medical Tips To Check with Your Doctor
9. Have a HPV test/ Pap smear
While having a pap smear or HPV test doesn’t boost your fertility, you should confirm that you don’t have any abnormalities at the cervix, as any potential issues should be highlighted and managed before you start trying for a baby.
10. Confirm your immunity to Chickenpox and Rubella
These are viral infections that can affect a baby’s development if you catch the illness while pregnant. As vaccinations for both conditions are readily available, it is advisable to know your immunity status, and to get vaccinated if you’re not already immune.
11. If you are taking any medicine, check its impact on your fertility with your doctor
If you take any long term medication, e.g. for a chronic medical condition, you should discuss your plans to conceive with your doctor. Some medicines are not suitable to take during pregnancy: your doctor can discuss safe alternatives with you. While it is natural to try to avoid all medicines when pregnant, it is really important that you don’t stop any regular medications without consulting your doctor. The risks to your health by stopping the medicine may outweigh any risks to your baby because of the medicine.
12. Take note of your menstrual cycles
If your cycles are regular, approximately every 28 to 35 days, then chances are that you are ovulating regularly. If your cycles are much shorter or longer than that, you should see your doctor earlier as you may not be ovulating regularly, which could decrease your chances of conception.
13. Know when to seek specialist help
If you are under the age of 35 and have been trying for one year, it is recommended that you see a fertility specialist to find out if you have any problems conceiving. If you are 35 or older, then seeing a specialist after 6 months is appropriate. However, if you have any underlying medical problems, or have a history of conditions such as ectopic pregnancy, endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease, you should seek expert advice earlier.