For the average couple, we give the lifestyle advice to stop smoking and to cease drinking alcohol when trying to conceive. Ensuring you have a healthy diet and are exercising regularly are also important.
These general changes will improve the chance of getting pregnant and will give you a much less complicated pregnancy.
Achieving a healthy weight before pregnancy is very important in improving ovulation and increasing the chance of spontaneous conception. For men, a healthy weight will improve the quality of his sperm. For women it will help them to have a healthier pregnancy (such as reducing the chance of developing gestational diabetes) and assist with easier delivery and recovery.
We also need to consider those with underlying medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and epilepsy. It is always advisable to make sure that they have those conditions well under control before they get pregnant. For example, uncontrolled diabetes can increase the chance of fetal anomaly, pre-eclampsia can also affect the placenta function and increase the risk of growth restriction.
There are certain medications that are not safe to take when you are pregnant. It is advisable to review all your medications with your doctor to change to safe in pregnancy medication if possible.
Pregnancy multivitamins and folic acid (which reduces the risk of neural tube defects) should be taken at least three months before you are planning to become pregnant, or as soon as possible once you do fall pregnant. Taking omega 3 does have lots of value in pregnancy. It helps the fetus brain development as well as reduce postpartum depression.
You should see your doctor about checking things such as your iron level and thyroid function, which require a simple blood test. Your vaccination status also needs to be checked, because we want to make sure you are immune to certain things like measles, mumps and rubella.
By doing this before you are pregnant, we have that opportunity to give you the appropriate vaccinations to make sure you are immune by the time you get pregnant.
There has been more and more things in the media about genetic testing and what couples need to be aware of, so see your doctor for the correct advice because there's a lot of information available.
Pre-pregnancy genetic testing
While genetic testing is becoming more widely available, it is not vital unless you are at a high risk of passing on specific conditions.
This could be couples with a previous child affected with some genetic problem, or those with a strong family history of genetic abnormalities (like cystic fibroisis, sickle cell disease, heart defect, cleft lip or palate). If you think you might be in this high-risk category you should see a genetic counsellor to discuss what tests you may need, and what the risks are of such occurrences.
If a couple is using IVF to conceive there is an option to do a pre-implantation genetic test. The embryos can be tested for certain conditions prior to embryo transfer.
It's a good idea to research your family medical history so that your doctor can determine whether genetic testing should be done and whether you fit into the low risk or high risk category for these.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has patient information about genetic screening on their website.
It is advisable to review all your medications with your doctor.
- Answer provided by Sydney obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Bahareh Samiei-Sarir, through HealthShare, a digital company dedicated to improving the health of regional Australians. Submit questions, and find more answers, at healthshare.com.au.