An important step in becoming pregnant is ensuring that you are healthy, which you can do by making simple lifestyle changes.
Make sure that you eat a nutritious, balanced diet. It should contain at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread and pasta, and lean meat, fish, and pulses for protein. Green, leafy vegetables are high in folic acid, which can help to prevent birth defects.
Women who are underweight or overweight ovulate (release an egg) less regularly, or sometimes not at all, compared to women of a healthy weight.
Therefore ensuring that you maintain a healthy weight will make it much easier to conceive.
Women should aim for a body mass index (BMI) of 19–25 for the best chance of getting pregnant. A BMI of less than 19 may mean that you are ovulating less frequently. If your BMI is over 29, your GP may recommend that you lose weight.
Men with a BMI of over 29 may have reduced fertility, and your GP may recommend that you lose weight. Regular exercise and eating a healthy diet can help you to maintain a suitable weight.
The Department of Health recommends that women should take a daily supplement of 0.4mg of folic acid while they are trying to conceive. If you become pregnant, you should continue taking this until week 12 of the pregnancy. Folic acid helps to protect the unborn baby from problems such as spina bifida (when the baby's spine does not develop properly).
It is very important to stop smoking if you are planning to get pregnant. Smoking is linked to babies with a low birth weight and increased complications during the pregnancy. This advice applies to both women and men because second-hand smoke is bad for unborn babies and young children.
Stress can often affect your fertility because it may lead to you having sex less frequently. For the best chance of becoming pregnant, you need to have sex every two to three days. Talk to your partner if you are feeling stressed and consider using counselling (talking therapy). You may also find regular exercise helpful.
The Department of Health (DH) recommends that women should not drink alcohol while they are trying to conceive. Studies have shown that alcohol can seriously damage a baby's development.
If you decide to drink during pregnancy, you should limit your intake to one to two units of alcohol, once or twice a week, and you should avoid getting drunk.
Men should not drink more than the DH’s recommendation of three to four units of alcohol a day. Drinking more than this can reduce your sperm quality. One unit of alcohol is approximately half a pint of normal strength lager, a small glass of wine or a 25ml measure of spirits.
Medicines and drugs
Illegal drugs such as marijuana or cocaine can affect fertility, and can seriously damage the development of your baby if you fall pregnant. You should therefore avoid using them. You should also avoid using some prescription medicines if you are trying to get pregnant. Ask your GP for further advice.
Health checks and tests for women
Make sure that you are up-to-date with your cervical screening tests (smear tests). You need to have one every three years.
You should also visit your local sexual health clinic (GUM clinic) to make sure that you do not have any sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Infections such as chlamydia may not have any symptoms but can cause infertility if they are left untreated.
Speak to your GP if you are planning a pregnancy. They may recommend that you have some additional tests, such as a test for rubella (German measles). You still need to be tested for this even if you have previously had the vaccination, because it can cause serious birth defects in unborn babies.
You may also be tested for the varicella-zoster virus unless you have a definite history of chickenpox or shingles.
If there is a history of genetic conditions in your family, such as cystic fibrosis (a condition that makes the internal bodily secretions thick and sticky) or Down's syndrome (a condition that affects a person’s physical appearance and their ability to learn and develop mentally), you should ask your GP about genetic testing.