There are many things you and your partner can do to ensure you have a healthy pregnancy - some of which begin before you have even conceived.
Tips for conceiving
To increase your chances of conceiving, find out when you are most fertile and have intercourse at those times. Your most fertile times will be around the time you ovulate. If your cycle is regular you can work this out using a calendar. Ovulation will occur between 12 and 16 days before your next period.
Ovulation can also be tested with an ovulation test (available from a pharmacy). Like a home pregnancy test you hold the test stick in your urine and wait for the results.
During your cycle the amount of cervical mucus (discharge) that you produce changes. It is usually thicker at the start and end of your cycle and clearer and wetter around ovulation. By keeping track of this you can start to identify your most fertile times.
You can also try using a fertility monitor which measures certain hormone levels in your urine to identify your most fertile days.
It goes without saying that you’ll need to stop all methods of contraceptives in order to get pregnant.
Men should avoid tight jeans or underpants as these keep the testicles too close to the body, raising their temperature which slows down the rate of sperm production.
When trying for a baby, it’s essential to take in a good balance of vitamins and minerals which can be achieved through healthy eating and/or by taking supplements. The medical profession and the Government’s Chief Medical Officer recommend that you take a 400 microgram (µg) folic acid supplement every day when trying to conceive.
Smoking cessation will also improve your chances of having a baby.
Some 80% of couples who have regular unprotected sex (every two to three days) will get pregnant within a year but an estimated 1 in 7 will have difficulty conceiving*. If you haven’t conceived after a year of trying you may want to consult a doctor.
Am I pregnant?
Usually, the first sign that you are pregnant will be a missed period, although some women will say that they knew they were pregnant before. The quickest way to confirm pregnancy is to use a home pregnancy kit which measures the level of pregnancy hormone in your urine. You do this by holding the testing strip in your urine for a few seconds, either in the stream or in a container. You should follow the instruction on the box to ensure you get an accurate result. The results appear within a couple of minutes. Each test varies, but usually they have two lines - one that confirms that the test is working properly and the other to show the results of your test.
Signs of pregnancy
- Missed period
- Sore breasts
- Passing urine frequently
- Heightened sense of smell and/or food cravings
If you believe you are pregnant you must see your GP who will discuss your options for antenatal care in your area. Your first antenatal appointment will usually be the longest as you’ll be asked all about your family background and medical history. Antenatal check-ups usually include a urine test, a measurement of blood pressure and checking your weight.
You will also have blood tests at various stages during your pregnancy, to check your blood group and for various infections that might be hazardous to the pregnancy. You’ll then be seen at various interview throughout your pregnancy by a midwife or doctor who will monitor how things are going. These check-ups will include monitoring your baby’s heartbeat and position in the uterus. All this information will be held in your ‘antenatal notes’ which you’ll be asked to keep with you.
A normal pregnancy lasts from 37 to 42 weeks from the first day of your last period. About 85 per cent of normal deliveries will occur a week before or after the expected date of delivery (EDD).
Your health team will describe the different stages of your pregnancy in ‘trimesters’.
The First Trimester
The first trimester refers to the weeks 1-12 of your pregnancy. This is an exciting and sometimes overwhelming time for new mums. Pregnancy hormones will start to make your breasts larger, your nipples darker and may cause you to feel incredibly tired and possibly quite sick. Morning sickness is a bit of a misnomer as while it is more common in the morning it can occur at any time of the day. You may also get food cravings or even aversions. And you may find your mood is all over the place. These feelings are normal and usually settle down.
By the end of this trimester the foetus will have all its organs, muscles, limbs and bones but it will still be too early for you to feel any movement and although your uterus will begin to enlarge you probably won’t ‘show’ yet.
The Second Trimester
The second trimester covers weeks 13-27 and is usually the easiest part of the pregnancy. Morning sickness has usually abated by this time and you should start feeling the baby moving (normally around weeks 17-20). You’ll be showing by now and will probably need to wear maternity clothes. You may start to develop a dark line down the middle of your tummy which occurs as you expand to accommodate your growing baby. You may still experience some tiredness. Other common problems include heartburn and headaches. Your doctor or pharmacist can advise you about simple remedies to help.
The Third Trimester
The third trimester refers to the final stage of your pregnancy weeks 28 up to 42 (although the baby is considered full-term at 37 weeks). Towards the end of pregnancy you may find it increasingly hard to get comfortable enough to sleep. You might also feel short of breath as the baby presses down on the diaphragm and with so much extra weight to carry you’ll undoubtedly be feeling tired. By now you’ve probably started antenatal classes (parentcraft classes) to learn what to expect during the labour and after the baby is born.
Before labour starts, you may experience some non-painful practice contractions of the uterus called Braxton-Hicks. These start any time after 30 weeks of pregnancy but are most common in the last few weeks.
Your midwife will tell you how to recognise the signs of real labour. Common indications include: regular contractions, waters breaking and a ‘show’ of blood stained mucus.
Contractions of the uterus gradually open up the cervix at the neck of the vagina ready for birth. As the labour progresses these increase in strength and length.
Often people keep quiet about their pregnancy until they reach the end of the first trimester. This is because one in eight pregnancies end in miscarriage, three-quarters of which happen during the first 12 weeks. A miscarriage, or spontaneous abortion, is a very common complication of pregnancy. While it rarely causes long-term physical problems it can have a major emotional impact leaving many couples feeling bereft.
It is worth remembering that the majority of women who miscarry do go on to have a successful pregnancy next time. If you have had three or more miscarriages your doctor can send you for further investigation to see how you can be helped.
After a positive pregnancy test, maintaining good health is vital. Exercising will tone and strengthen muscles, making it easier to carry the baby but vigorous exercise should be avoided. You can ask your health provider about local classes for pregnant women such as antenatal yoga or aqua aerobics for pregnancy.
Your diet should be rich in calcium, protein, carbohydrates (especially wholemeal products to increase fibre intake) and vitamins and you should continue taking 400 microgram (µg) folic acid supplement every day for the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy.
Alcohol and caffeinated drinks should be avoided, as should raw eggs, undercooked meats, shellfish and unpasteurised products.
Your baby will be exposed to anything you ingest - so avoid toxic substances such as cigarettes or drugs and consult your doctor if you are taking any medication.