What lifestyle choices can help you prepare for pregnancy.
Vitamins & Minerals
Folic acid is a vitamin important for the development of your baby’s brain and spinal cord. Taking extra folic acid in early pregnancy can reduce the risk of developmental problems in your baby’s brain and spina bifida. Ideally, you should start taking folic acid from at least one month before you conceive and up to the end of the 12th week of pregnancy. The recommended dose is 800 micrograms (0.8 milligrams) per day. This is available over the counter at any chemist. We can also prescribe folic acid for you if you prefer. Some pregnancy vitamins available over the counter do not contain enough folic acid so check with your chemist when buying a pregnancy vitamin supplement. Elevit contains the correct dose of folic acid.
You can also increase your dietary intake of folate and folic acid. Important sources of folate and folic acid include well-washed, fresh, raw or lightly cooked leafy green vegetables, fruits and juices and some fortified breads and cereals. You can download the Ministry of Health’s leaflet on folic acid here and their booklet “Eating for Healthy Pregnant Women” here.
Iodine is an essential nutrient for your baby’s brain development and growth. Iodine requirements increase during pregnancy and it is sometimes difficult to get enough iodine from diet alone. The Ministry of Health recommends that all women take additional iodine supplements during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. The recommended dose is 150 micrograms (0.15 milligrams) daily. Iodine supplements suitable for pregnancy can be purchased over the counter at any pharmacy. We can provide you with a prescription for iodine if you prefer.
Seaweed and kelp based “natural” supplements contain very variable concentrations of iodine and are not recommended for pregnant women. Elevit contains the correct dose of iodine.
You can download a copy of the Ministry of Health’s leaflet on iodine here.
Your body needs vitamin D to maintain healthy levels of calcium and build your baby’s bones and teeth. Sun exposure is the main source of vitamin D in New Zealand. Spending some time outside each day especially during the winter will help you make vitamin D. Small amounts of vitamin D are also found in oily fish, eggs and some dairy products. You are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D is you have darker skin or avoid sun exposure completely. If you are at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency we can prescribe vitamin D as monthly 1.25mg tablet. You can read the Ministry of Health’s leaflet on vitamin D in pregnancy here.
A Rubella infection in pregnancy can severely damage an unborn baby affecting brain and eye development. Most women will have been vaccinated against rubella in childhood and should still have immunity in adulthood. A few women will not be immune following vaccination and others may have never been vaccinated. If you are planning to conceive ask your doctor to check your rubella immunity. You can read more information from the Ministry of Health on Rubella and pregnancy here.
The New Zealand cervical screening programme recommends that women have a cervical smear every three years from the age of 20. Cervical screening is a very effective intervention to reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer in later life. Cervical smears can be taken in pregnancy but if you are planning a pregnancy we would suggest that you make sure your smears are up to date or arrange to have one earlier than usual so any possible abnormal smear can be investigated before you are pregnant.
Nearly a third of women in Auckland are overweight when they conceive. Being overweight in pregnancy increases your risk of developing diabetes, having a baby with a congenital abnormality, having a caesarean section, or experiencing an infection after birth. You can reduce your risk of all these complications by trying to get as close as possible to your ideal body weight before you conceive.
You can check if you are within a healthy weight range by calculating your body mass index (BMI). Ideally, you should have a body mass index of 20 to 25 and certainly less than 30. This is calculated from your weight and height. Click on the link here to check your BMI.
The safest level of alcohol intake in pregnancy is no alcohol at all. Alcohol crosses the placenta and into both your baby and its surrounding amniotic fluid. In the first trimester alcohol can affect the development of baby’s heart, brain and face. In later pregnancy it can impair baby’s growth and brain development. The risk for any individual woman with occasional alcohol consumption is probably low but no safe lower limit has been established. While you are trying to conceive moderate your intake and ideally avoid alcohol completely. Complete abstinence for many months is probably an impossible target for most women but do avoid episodes of heavy drinking if you are trying to conceive
One potential risk factor you cannot change is your age, but don’t worry: many women have straight forward pregnancies and healthy babies well into their forties. There are some important potential concerns associated with pregnancy in older women. These include an increased chance of having a baby with Down Syndrome. Older women are more likely to develop problems with high blood pressure, diabetes and be delivered by caesarean section. However, some of these problems occur because older women are more likely to be overweight, or have developed other medical problems so these risks may not necessarily apply to you.
It may also be harder coping with a new baby as there may not be younger grandparents and an extended family to help. Having a baby can also present you with many new challenges (almost all very rewarding!) that your professional and working life has not thrown at you yet.
Problems Getting Pregnant
About one in six couples have problems starting a family and this proportion rises to one in three in older couples. After six months of trying to conceive about seven out of ten women should be pregnant. If you are not pregnant after this time, then ask your GP to arrange some tests to check all is well. If you have very irregular periods, a history of past pelvic infections such as Chlamydia or a partner who has had infertility problems in a previous relationship you may wish to seek help sooner.
For information look at the fertility websites on our Helpful Information page.