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Focussing on your health and wellbeing prior to becoming pregnant (preconception health) is about people taking control and choosing healthy habits, living well, being healthy and staying healthy throughout their lives. It is important for all women and men, regardless of whether they plan to have a baby now, or in the future. After all, a lot of pregnancies are unplanned.


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Preconception health is about making a plan for the future and taking the steps to get there.

At Complementary birth we can help you to get ready and prepare for pregnancy. We can develop a tailor made package that is just right for you. Contact us for further information


Planning for pregnancy
If you are thinking about having a baby, or actively trying to conceive, it is not too early to start getting ready for pregnancy. Preconception health and health care focus on things you can do before and between pregnancies to increase the chances of having a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. For some women, getting their body ready for pregnancy takes a few months. For other women, it might take longer.

Healthy Men
Preconception health is also important for men. It means choosing to get and stay as healthy as possible and helping others to do the same. As a partner, it means encouraging and supporting the health of your partner. As a father, it means protecting your children. Preconception health is about providing yourself and your loved ones with a bright and healthy future.
If you would like any assistance or help in getting healthy please contact us for further information

Healthy Babies
Preconception health is a precious gift to babies. For babies, preconception health means their parents took steps to get healthy before pregnancy. Such babies are less likely to be born early (preterm) or have a low birthweight. Preconception health gives babies the best chance for a healthy start in life.

Healthy Families
Ensuring preconception health is a great way to create a healthy family. The health of a family relies on the health of the people in the family. Taking care of your health now will help to ensure a better quality of life for yourself and your family in the years to come.




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(Go to top of page) Stimulants and Medications Emotional Wellbeing Physical Activity Relationships Reach and Maintain A Healthy Weight Smoking Fertility Issues Diet and Supplements Medical Issues





Medical Issues (Back to topics)
Existing medical conditions
If you have any existing medical conditions (e.g. depression, epilepsy, diabetes, thyroid conditions, eating disorders) you should discuss plans to become pregnant with your Doctor or Specialist. They can advise you on any special requirements for managing the condition during pregnancy and determine any changes to current medications that may be required before conception or during pregnancy.





Fertility Issues (Back to topics)
Fertility

Over the past twenty years, the number of couples experiencing problems with fertility has dramatically increased.

At least 25% of all couples planning a baby will have trouble conceiving and more and more are turning to fertility treatments to help them have a baby.

Both women and men are at their most fertile in their early twenties. However, many people today wait until they're in their mid 30's before they start planning for a family. The pressure of a ticking biological clock can become a real stress for couples if natural conception doesn't occur after 1-2 years.

Fertility declines over time. In women, fertility declines more quickly with age, with a rapid decline in fertility seen after the age of 35. Around one-third of couples in which the woman is over 35 have fertility problems. This rises to two-thirds when the woman is over 40. This has a number of causes, but particularly the decline in the quality of the eggs released by the ovaries.

Men's fertility gradually declines from around the age of 40, but most men are able to father children into their 50s and beyond.

Sexually transmitted infections, alcohol, smoking, being overweight or underweight, nutrient deficiencies, impaired nutrient absorption, heavy metal toxicity and increasingly stress all play a role in declining fertility rates.

Complementary Birth can help you to prepare your body and mind for conception and pregnancy. Through a program of diet and exercise advice you will learn what steps to take to have the best chance of conceiving. In addition a personalised hypnotherapy course can be utilised if health risks such as smoking or obesity are affecting your chances of becoming pregnant. See 'Our Services' for more information.

If you've been trying to conceive for a year or more by having regular unprotected sex and are still not pregnant, you should see your GP. Your GP can do tests to identify possible fertility problems, and can provide advice on the next steps.






Diet and Supplements (Back to topics)
A healthy diet is an important part of promoting a healthy lifestyle, but in particular if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Eating well whilst you are trying to become pregnant can increase the chances of you becoming pregnant as it ensures ovulation is occurring as it should (1). Once pregnant, a healthy diet helps ensure the baby grows and develops properly and can reduce the risk of you developing complications such as pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes

You should aim to cut down on sugar and sugary foods and processed and refined foods such as ready meals and fast foods as these are often high in fat and low in nutritional value. High calorie and high fat foods can contribute to weigh gain and increase the risk of heart disease.

A diet based on fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, poultry, fish and dairy foods is recommended. You should aim for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Eating a varied diet will help ensure you have adequate levels of nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, potassium and vitamins C, B6 and E; all of which play a role in fertility and maintaining a healthy pregnancy

If you need help to adopt a healthy lifestyle, why not consider our range of complementary therapies that can help. We can develop a specialised package just for you. Contact us for further information


Additional considerations

Iron
Iron is essential for the production of haemoglobin (Hb), which helps to carry oxygen in red blood cells around the body. Without enough iron, your blood cells would not be able to carry sufficient blood around your body. This is known as iron deficiency anaemia.

It is therefore a good idea to ensure that your iron levels are adequate in the preconception period so that these levels can be more easily maintained during pregnancy.


Iron rich foods:

  • Red meat is the best source of iron but it is also found in chicken. Avoid liver and liver products as they contain high levels of Vitamin A which could harm your baby.

  • Dark green leafy vegetables including spinach, cabbage, broccoli and watercress

  • Fish, especially oily fish (mackerel, sardines)

  • Eggs

  • Pulses (lentils, beans, chick peas)

  • Bread, especially wholemeal

  • Dried fruit

  • Iron-enriched breakfast cereals


Consuming foods that contain vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron contained in non-meat sources. Tea may reduce absorption of iron from foods so avoid drinking tea immediately before, during or after meals.


Vitamin D
It is important that you get enough Vitamin D while you are trying to become pregnant, during your pregnancy, and while you are breastfeeding. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with fertility problems and problems during pregnancy (2).

Breast milk contains a low level of vitamin D, so it important for you to ensure that you have an adequate intake of vitamin D in the later stages of pregnancy so your baby has adequate supplies after birth.

The best source of Vitamin D is sunlight but having a diet rich in Vitamin D helps too. Vitamin D may be found in oily fish, eggs, meat and fortified cereals and margarine. You may choose to take a Vitamin D supplement (10 micrograms a day) to ensure you get enough vitamin D.


Fish
Eating fish is an important part of a healthy diet in the preconception period and during pregnancy. However, larger and longer living fish such as swordfish, shark or marlin can contain higher levels of mercury. At high levels, mercury can affect the unborn baby's nervous system. Women who are planning a pregnancy or who are pregnant should limit their intake of fish types that may have higher mercury levels. Try not to eat more than 4 medium sized cans or 2 portions of fresh oily fish per week (fresh tuna, mackerel, sardines, salmon and trout). Avoid raw shellfish (ie oysters) as they can contain the harmful bacteria that may cause food poisoning


Listeriosis and other food borne illness
Listeriosis is caused by the listeria bacteria and can cause miscarriage, still birth or severe illness in the newborn baby. During the preconception period and throughout pregnancy women should avoid eating foods more likely to contain listeria including:



  • Soft, semi soft and mould ripened cheeses such as brie, camembert, stilton, Shropshire blue. You can eat hard cheeses such as cheddar and other cheese made from pasteurised milk including cottage cheese and mozzarella

  • Avoid eating all types of pate including vegetable pate

  • Avoid soft whipped ice-cream from kiosks or vans as it may contain salmonella or other bacteria that may cause food poisoning.

  • Make sure you cook eggs well until the whites and yolks are solid to avoid the risk of salmonella

  • Make sure all your meat is well cooked, especially chicken.



Some women choose not to eat peanuts when they are pregnant or breastfeeding. However, it remains unclear whether eating peanuts affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy. Unless you have a peanut allergy, you can continue to choose to eat peanuts or foods containing peanuts when you are pregnant

You may be more susceptible to food borne illness during pregnancy as the immune system is suppressed. Preparing and storing food safely are therefore extremely important.


To help reduce the risk of developing a food borne illness you can:

  • Wash your hands before preparing or serving food

  • Wash all fresh fruit and vegetables

  • Store raw foods in the bottom of the fridge

  • Keep and serve cold foods below 5°C

  • Cook and serve hot foods above 60°C



Supplements

Folate (folic acid)
Folate is a B-group vitamin that is extremely important in the preconception period as it helps prevent neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida. Folate requirements are also much higher during pregnancy. Because the neural tube is formed before most women are aware they are pregnant it is recommended women take a 400 microgram folic acid supplement for at least one month prior to pregnancy and for the first three months after conception. Current national guidelines recommend that women who have a family history of spina bifida, multiple pregnancy or have certain medical conditions such as Diabetes or a BMI over 30, should take a higher level of Folic Acid (500 microgram). This supplement should be in addition to eating foods rich in folate such as cereals, bread, green leafy vegetables, legumes and fruit.







Stimulants and medications (Back to topics)
Caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, cocoa, cola, energy drinks and chocolate. A light to moderate intake of caffeine does not appear to interfere with conception. However, high consumption of caffeine can affect fertility and increase the risk of miscarriage. You should limit your caffeine intake to a maximum 2-3 cups per day.


Alcohol
Studies on the affect of moderate alcohol consumption on a woman's fertility have produced conflicting results. For women who are pregnant the risk from low-level drinking (i.e. 1 to 2 drinks per week) is likely to be small. However, because no safe limit can be set, we advise that avoiding alcohol during the three months prior to conception and during pregnancy is the safest option.

1UK Unit of alcohol is 10mlsm or 8g of pure alcohol

A unit is



  • ½ a standard (175mls) glass of wine at 11.5% ABV or

  • ½ a pint or ordinary strength beer, cider or lager at 3.5% ABV or

  • A single measure (25mls) of spirits at 40% ABV



Alcohol crosses the placenta, and because tour baby cannot process alcohol as fast as you do, your baby is exposed to the harmful effects of alcohol for a longer period of time. Too much alcohol can harm your baby's development and in excessive cases the baby may develop physical and mental problems associated with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Binge drinking is especially harmful.

If you have difficulty reducing your alcohol intake, please speak to your midwife or health care professional who will provide support and refer you to the appropriate services


Recreational drugs
The use of recreational drugs should be avoided both in the preconception period and during pregnancy. Women who use recreational drugs or have a drug dependency should seek help from their midwife or health care professional to ensure that they receive the support and care they need to stabilise, stop or reduce use during pregnancy.


Medications
Women planning a pregnancy who take prescription medications, over-the-counter medications or complementary medicines should discuss their wish to become pregnant with all their health professionals (doctor, homeopath, therapist etc). Current medications may need to be re-evaluated to ensure they are safe to take in the preconception period and during pregnancy. Women may need to switch to another medication or change their dose. It is not advisable for women to simply stop taking prescription medications without first consulting their doctor.





Smoking (Back to topics)
Quitting smoking is an important step in preconception care as it can interfere with fertility and the ability to conceive, both naturally and through the use of assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF. Ideally women should aim to quit several months before pregnancy, but stopping or reducing smoking at any time is still beneficial.

The impact of smoking in pregnancy is well documented being linked to increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, cot death and problems with the baby's growth and development, including cleft lip. Babies who have been born too early can develop problems with breathing, infection and feeding. Smoking in pregnancy can cause permanent cardiovascular damage to children putting them at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease in later life. Smoking in pregnancy has been linked to the development of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children.

Second hand smoke is also harmful as up to 75% of the cigarette is spread into the air and can increase the risk of cot death, respiratory infections and ear infections in babies

Stopping smoking at any time during your pregnancy will increase your chances of having a healthier baby.


Hypnosis to help you stop smoking
At Complementary birth we are trained to deliver stop smoking interventions and we can offer a tailor made programme of complementary therapies and formal stop smoking interventions to help you reduce and stop smoking. For further information please click here


Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)
Ideally pregnant women should stop smoking during pregnancy without the use of NRT. However, if this is not possible, NRT may be recommended. See the East Cheshire NHS website for more information





Reach and maintain a healthy Weight (Back to topics)
Being over or under weight can affect fertility. Women who are overweight or obese can experience ovulation problems. Similarly, being below an ideal weight or having fat levels that are too low can result in irregular menstrual cycles.

Maintaining a healthy weight, therefore, can help regulate ovulation and menstrual cycles, consequently improving the chances of you becoming pregnant. Being at an ideal weight before conception also allows you to adjust to the normal weight gain associated with pregnancy.

It is important to maintain a healthy weight throughout pregnancy to reduce the risk of complications.

The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight isn't about short-term dietary changes. It's about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity.





Physical Activity (Back to topics)
Regular exercise is important for all women for physical and emotional wellbeing. Being fit and active in the preconception period will help to manage the physical and emotional changes that pregnancy and motherhood bring. If you are planning to become pregnant you should aim to participate in 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity on most days of the week.

However, you should inform your exercise instructor if you become pregnant as some exercises may not be suitable or may need to be modified during your pregnancy. In general, you should avoid activities that will raise the body temperature too high, limit oxygen supply or increase the risk of falling. This includes activities such as scuba diving, parachuting, waterskiing, martial arts, gymnastics, horse riding and trampolining. Strained lifting and exercises done lying back-down should be avoided during the second half of pregnancy. Activities that women find particularly beneficial include walking, swimming, yoga and Pilates.

Women planning a pregnancy should also perform regular pelvic floor exercises. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles which span the area under the pelvis. Having a strong pelvic floor can provide protection against urinary incontinence, which can be a problem for women following childbirth. Pelvic floor exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor by actively tightening them and lifting them at intervals.



How to do pelvic floor exercises:

Squeeze the muscles that you use to prevent a bowel movement.
At the same time squeeze the muscles that you use to prevent the flow of urine.
Repeat these exercises quickly, tightening and releasing the muscles quickly.
Repeat these exercises slowly, try to tighten the muscles and count up to ten before releasing.
Repeat these up to ten times.
Aim for 3 sets per day

It is important to continue to perform pelvic floor exercises following birth. For more information about the importance of pelvic floor exercises and how to undertake them, you can attend one of our Parent Education Classes


Emotional wellbeing (Back to topics)
Mental health is how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life. To be at your best, you need to feel good about your life and value yourself. Everyone feels worried, anxious, sad, or stressed sometimes. However, if these feelings do not go away and they interfere with your daily life, you need to seek help. Talk to your doctor or another health professional about your feelings

Preconception, pregnancy and parenthood are times of significant change and can be overwhelming as well as exciting. A significant number of women can be affected by depression during pregnancy and/or after their baby is born.

While physical health is often the focus of preconception information, a woman's mental and emotional health is just as important and is closely linked with physical health. Women who are taking medications for a mental or emotional health issue should consult with their doctor if possible prior to conception as some medications can affect the developing baby. Women who have experienced mental or emotional health issues in the past should also consult with their health professional as this time can exacerbate existing issues or trigger recurrences of past ones.

All our classes focus on promoting emotional wellbeing through the use of relaxation techniques. Click here for further information about antenatal classes available





Relationships (Back to topics)
The preconception period can be an anxious time. Women and their partners might be worried about their ability to conceive, what type of parents they will be and the impact of children on their relationship. Discussing these fears with each other, along with expectations of parenthood, can help overcome anxieties and make issues easier to deal with if they arise.

The physical and emotional changes that occur during pregnancy can be drastic and difficult to cope with for both partners, even in pregnancies that are planned. Understanding what is normal can help, as can discussing and communicating fears with each other or a health professional.


Have a Healthy Pregnancy!
Once you are pregnant, be sure to keep up all of your new healthy habits and see your midwife regularly throughout your pregnancy for antenatal care.







References
1. Chavarro J, Rich-Edwards J, Rosner B & Willet W 2007, Diet and Lifestyle in the Prevention of Ovulatory Disorder Infertility, Obstetrics & Gynecology, vol 110, issue 5 pp1050-1058
2. Lerchbaum E & Obermayer-Pietsch B 2012, Vitamin D and fertility - a systematic review, European Journal of Endocrinology, Jan 24


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