Considering taking the plunge into parenthood? From my experience as a parent, and as an obstetrician and gynecologist at the Mater Private Hospital, ensuring a healthy pregnancy starts way before conception. If you’re looking to start a family, there are a few things to consider prior to falling pregnant, or before you start to try.
1) Pre-pregnancy check-up
Seeing your GP or obstetrician for a general health assessment before you fall pregnant is essential. This check-up will typically include a review of any and all medical conditions and medications you may be on, an update of your vaccinations (rubella and chickenpox are of most importance at this point in time), a general physical examination, and necessary screening tests.
Remember – if you need a rubella booster you are advised to wait a month after having it to fall pregnant, and an up-to-date cervical screening test, or pap smear, is critical.
Preconception testing, or carrier screening as it is known, is now more widely available and is an option which parents-to-be should consider. It involves a blood test to get a better understanding of your and your partner’s genetic history in order to identify whether there are any health issues that may affect, and can be treated before, your pregnancy.
2) Give up the bad habits
Easier said than done, but bad habits – especially smoking and recreational drugs – have been scientifically proven to affect your chances of falling pregnant and in the worst-case scenario, affect the health of your baby.
It’s best to play it safe and stop completely. With the right medical support and tools, habits like these can be kicked to the curb.
3) Safe and healthy eating
Most people won’t know they are pregnant until roughly six weeks along, so being aware of safe and healthy foods you should eat while pregnant is important, to give your baby the essential nutrients they need in the womb. Overall, aim for a balanced diet, with an appropriate blend of all the five food groups, and be sure to safely prepare all foods – washing and heating foods like eggs, poultry and ready-made meals until they are piping hot. This helps to avoid things like toxoplasmosis, which can harm your unborn baby. NSW Health has an great online handbook to guide you.
4) Be mindful of your emotional health and wellbeing
Research suggests that women who suffer from depression are twice as likely to have problems with fertility as women who don’t.
With that in mind, it’s a good idea for those who have a personal or family history of depression to do a mental health check before trying to fall pregnant.
If needed, your GP can refer you to a therapist or psychiatrist for a consultation, who can help you find an antidepressant that’s safe to take while you’re trying to conceive and during your pregnancy. You also may want to try stress management techniques, such as yoga and meditation, which research suggests can help with the process.
5) Most importantly – determine when you ovulate
Some women simply stop using birth control when they’re ready to get pregnant and let fate decide when they’ll conceive. Others take a more calculated approach by charting their periods and ovulation times through easy-to-use apps to pinpoint their fertile days each month, and when to have sex. This is an effective approach.
It all comes down to timing, however, I always advise my patients to try and avoid getting hung up on timing and making the process of trying to fall pregnant a chore. Conceiving is made harder by stress and anxiety.
About Dr Sean Burnet and the Mater Hospital’s upcoming Planning for Pregnancy:
Dr Sean Burnet is an experienced obstetrician and gynecologist who specialises in high-risk pregnancies.
EVENT: On Wednesday, 26 February, he and fellow Mater obstetrician Dr Karen Sheng will host a free information night for women and couples looking to conceive, covering the A-Z of preparing for pregnancy.
See the Mater’s website for more information and register via the link to Eventbrite