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Preparing for pregnancy—planning ahead

If you are planning a pregnancy we recommended that you prepare for this event. It is a good idea to start with a visit to your general practitioner (GP) to discuss your plans. This discussion could include the following: 

Pap smear

If it is more than two years since your last pap smear, make an appointment to see your GP for a pap smear.

Existing medical conditions

If you have an existing medical condition this may have an impact on your pregnancy and should be discussed with your GP before becoming pregnant. These conditions can include high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, anaemia, cystic fibrosis and heart, liver or kidney disease.

Existing gynaecological problems

Some gynaecological problems may affect your ability to conceive or cause concern during pregnancy. This includes endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome or pelvic inflammatory disease. Surgical procedures to your cervix or uterus may also cause problems for your pregnancy.

Rubella

A rubella infection during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy can result in severe abnormalities for your unborn baby. Please ask your GP for a blood test to check your rubella immunity levels. If you require a rubella vaccination you should not become pregnant for at least 28 days after this injection.

Folic acid supplements

For more information, see section about why folate is important down the page.

Vitamin D deficiency

Women who have little or no exposure to the sun, especially veiled and dark skinned women, are at an increased risk of a vitamin D deficiency. This can lead to osteoporosis (brittle bones) for you, and your baby is at increased risk of developing rickets (a bone disorder). Speak to your GP about a blood test to check your vitamin D levels.

Dental health

A general dental check before pregnancy is preferred as any x-rays you may require are not recommended for pregnant women.

Preparing for pregnancy—a healthy eating guide

Eating well when trying to become pregnant is important; a balanced diet plus a folate supplement is essential. Losing weight, if you are above the healthy weight range, is recommended for good health now. This will increase your chances of falling pregnant and help you have a healthier pregnancy. Following a healthier lifestyle is a positive change for you to make at this time. Eating nourishing food, getting more exercise, quitting smoking (if you smoke) and cutting back on alcohol are all helpful changes for you to make.
 

Mater Mothers’ Hospital’s dietitians conduct a specially tailored program for women hoping to fall pregnant that provides you with the latest essential information you need before pregnancy. To book into this workshop, please phone 07 3163 6000.
 

Our booklet and workshop covers:

  • Go for 2 & 5 versus Go for 4 & 5. We all know fruit and vegies are important—how do you measure up to the Go for 2 & 5 guideline? Find out about what you need from all of the food groups when pregnant.
  • Folate, iodine, iron, and vitamin D—why are they so important?
  • Getting moving: being active in your life has many benefits, beyond weight management.
  • The facts about mercury, caffeine and alcohol.
  • Tips for coping with morning sickness, constipation and heartburn.
  • Why do I have to avoid cold deli meats when pregnant? Find out the details on Listeria.
  • Weight gain guidelines for pregnancy—how to have the healthiest pregnancy possible. This is accompanied by the Mater Personalised Pregnancy Weight Tracker to guide your week to week gain.

Why is folate important?

Folate is needed for healthy growth and development. Taking folate reduces the chance of neural tube defects (e.g. spina bifida) in your baby. It is recommended that women trying to conceive take an extra 400 μg/day of folic acid. The best way to get this is from a supplement. It is important to take this at least one month before and three months after you become pregnant. You still need to eat foods that contain folate. Rich dietary sources of folate include green vegetables, fruit, and fortified cereals.

Listeria

When you become pregnant, it is important to be careful with food that might be contaminated with Listeria. These bacteria move into the placenta and can cause premature birth or miscarriage. Foods that might carry Listeria and should be avoided include: 

  • raw/uncooked/smoked meat and seafood, ready to eat chilled seafood
  • deli meats, cooked cold meat, pate, meat spreads
  • leftovers (more than 24 hours after cooking)
  • pre-prepared salads, smorgasbords, buffets
  • unpasteurised milk and soft serve ice cream
  • soft cheeses (brie, camembert, ricotta, feta, blue). Hard cheeses like cheddar and tasty are safe. Processed cheese, plain cream cheese and plain cottage cheese are fine if purchased sealed and stored in the fridge
  • unwashed raw fruit and vegetables
  • raw eggs or foods containing raw or partially cooked eggs.

It is easy to make safe choices by following these tips:

  • Freshly prepared and cooked foods have low levels of bacteria. Bacteria grow over time, so avoid eating food if it has been made more than 24 hours since being prepared. Always reheat to steaming hot.
  • Raw fruit and vegetables should be washed thoroughly before eating.
  • Listeria is destroyed in normal cooking, so freshly cooked hot food is safe if eaten straight away.

Even those foods listed above that are higher risk can be eaten safely if heated above 74 degrees Celsius for over two minutes.

Weight loss versus weight gain

Being in the healthy weight range gives you the best chance of falling pregnant and then having the healthiest pregnancy possible. If you are below the healthy weight range when you fall pregnant you have an increased risk of preterm birth. If you are above the healthy weight range you have an increased risk of longer hospital stays, caesarean births, high blood pressure and diabetes. However, risks can be managed with healthy weight gain, whatever you weigh at the beginning of your pregnancy. 

Getting moving

Regular moderate-intensity exercise helps to maintain a healthy weight before and during pregnancy and has many additional health benefits including:

  • lower stress levels
  • better mood, less anxiety
  • lower risk of diabetes and heart disease
  • more energy and better sleep
  • better bowel habits.

When you become pregnant the benefits also include:

  • less lower back pain
  • less nausea
  • less heartburn.

How much activity is enough?

To get the most health benefits, aim for is at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days. You do not have to do it all at once. Your exercise can be spread over the day, in 10 minute blocks. Try three, ten minute walks or two, 15 minute periods of activity.
 

What does moderate-intensity activity mean? This means you are exercising at a comfortable pace and should be able to maintain a conversation without being short of breath.

Drugs and pregnancy

Medications

It is often best to avoid using drugs in pregnancy, whenever possible. However, there are some conditions that can have more serious consequences (for both the mother and child), if they are left untreated. Some medications that may be considered essential to continue throughout pregnancy include treatments for diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, high blood pressure and also treatment for infections.

Herbal preparations

If you are taking any herbal preparations we recommend you tell your doctor about them and your plans to become pregnant. It is important that the ingredients that make up these preparations can be easily identified to allow your doctor to be able to provide adequate recommendations around their safety of use in early pregnancy.

Alcohol

Not drinking is the safest option for women, who are planning a pregnancy, who are pregnant, or who are breastfeeding. For the alcohol and drug information service call 1800 177 833.

Illicit drugs

It is recommended you stop all non-prescribed and recreational drug use. Consult your GP for further advice and assistance.

Cigarette smoking

The effects of cigarette smoking on fertility, pregnancy and your unborn baby:

  • Smoking can affect male fertility—sperm quantity and quality.
  • An increased risk of miscarriage.
  • An increased risk of preterm labour. Preterm babies are susceptible to infection and breathing difficulties because their internal organs are not properly developed.
  • An increased risk of your baby weighing less at birth simply because you smoked.
  • A higher risk of complications during childbirth.
  • An increased chance of perinatal illness and death (your baby being sick or dying at or shortly after birth).
  • A higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • There is evidence showing that babies who were exposed to smoking during pregnancy may be at risk of having cognitive, behavioural and developmental deficits.

Stopping smoking

If you need some help in stopping smoking, ask your doctor or midwife. You can also contact QUITLINE on 13 QUIT (13 78 48).

Immunisation

If you are planning a pregnancy, you should talk to your doctor about whether you are immune to rubella (German measles) and consider having the pertussis (whooping cough) and varicella zoster (chicken pox) vaccinations. These illnesses can cause serious problems for both your unborn or newborn baby. Your doctor may also recommend flu vaccination in pregnancy. For further information please ask your doctor or visit the Immunise Australia Program.

Bladder health

Good bladder habits can help improve bladder control and keep your bladder healthy.

  • It is normal to go to the toilet between four and eight times a day, and no more than twice at night.
  • Do not go to the toilet ‘just in case’. You should only go the toilet when your bladder is full and you feel the urge to go. (Going to the toilet before you go to bed is fine.)
  • Take your time when passing urine so that your bladder can empty completely.
  • Women should sit to go the toilet. Do not hover over the toilet seat.
  • Every bladder problem, no matter how small needs to be reviewed. There is usually always something that can be done. Please talk to your doctor or a physiotherapist if you have any concerns about your bladder health.

Pelvic floor muscles

Your pelvic floor muscles support your bladder, uterus and bowel and help you to control your bladder and bowel so it is important to keep these muscles strong. There are many reasons why your pelvic floor muscles become weak such as being pregnant and having babies, constipation, being overweight, lifting heavy objects, persistent coughing and getting older.
 

For pregnant women, pelvic floor muscle training will help your body cope with the growing weight of your baby. Healthy, strong muscles will repair more readily after the birth of your baby.
 

A physiotherapist can help you with pelvic floor muscle strengthening. To make an appointment to see a Mater physiotherapist please telephone allied health reception on 07 3163 6000.

Breastfeeding—the benefits

Breast milk is a unique and nutritionally ideal food for babies. It has a wide variety of benefits for both mother and baby. Breast milk:

  • is easily digested and changes to ensure your baby receives what they need at any given time
  • has been found to provide some protection against developing diabetes, Crohn’s disease, asthma, allergies, coeliac disease, ear, urinary tract and chest infections, diarrhoeal diseases, some childhood cancers, rheumatoid arthritis and obesity
  • provides optimal visual development
  • provides babies with optimal dental and jaw development
  • significantly decreases the risk of the mother developing breast and ovarian cancer and osteoporosis
  • helps your uterus return to normal size more quickly
  • can help you return to your normal weight after the birth of your baby.

Fertility services at Mater

Mater Mothers’ Hospitals provides a range of fertility services for women and couples.

Preconception care service

The Preconception Care Service assists couples who are planning a pregnancy to optimise their own health so they may have a healthy pregnancy.

Fertility assessment and research clinic

The Fertility Assessment and Research Clinic (FAR Clinic) offers specialised care to couples experiencing infertility and recurrent miscarriages. This service aims to optimise a couple’s health, to provide them with information, and to improve their combined fertility. Specialised medical and surgical care is provided for those who require this.

Natural fertility services

Natural Fertility Services teaches the Sympto-Thermal Method of fertility awareness. This method requires women to observe and chart their cervical mucus and temperature changes to allow them to recognise the fertile phase of their menstrual cycle to achieve or avoid a pregnancy. The Sympto-Thermal Method is a natural, simple to use, effective, scientifically-based method of fertility awareness, based on years of research in human reproduction.

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: PI-CLN-430142
Last modified 09/8/2017.
Consumers were consulted in the development of this patient information.
Last consumer engagement date: 19/1/2014
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