WOMEN’S HEALTHPregnancyPreparing for Pregnancy

Preparing for Pregnancy

A nutritious diet before and during pregnancy will help your baby to develop and grow

The NHS recommends taking a 400 micrograms supplement of folic acid every day while you’re trying to get pregnant, and up until you’re 12 weeks pregnant is advised. The benefit of taking folic acid is that It reduces the risk of your baby being born with a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida.

Folic acid is found in foods like leafy green vegetables, brown rice, granary bread and cereals. Not all women will know they are pregnant in the early weeks; however they should start taking these supplements as soon as possible.

For women with any history of neural tube defects in the family or previous pregnancies or medical conditions such as diabetes or epilepsy it’s important to consult your GP first.


The RCM recommends that you do not drink alcohol if you are pregnant or trying to conceive. Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to your baby and the more you drink, the greater the risk.


There is no doubt that smoking in pregnancy can harm the developing baby and is one of the major factors involved in the UK’s relatively high stillbirth rates compared to many other developed nations.

In addition to stillbirth, babies born to smokers are at an increased risk of neonatal death, sudden infant death, premature, and low birth weight.

Stopping smoking can be very challenging and requires good support. Midwives will offer and signpost women to stop smoking services. Pregnancy can also be the ideal time for family members such a woman’s partner to also give up smoking to enable their baby to be born into a smoke free household. Some women may find it easier to stop smoking in pregnancy, with the strong motivation to protect their baby from the effects of tobacco.

Nicotine replacement therapy is an effective stop smoking aid and is licenced for use in pregnancy.

At the start of this year the NHS published its Long Term Plan with a firm commitment to focus on tackling rates of smoking during pregnancy.


Pregnancy can be an anxious time and this may trigger or exacerbate mental ill health for  some women. It is vital that you talk to your midwife, doctor or health visitor if you are worried about your mental health. Treatment, including talking therapy and medication, is available and specialist midwives and other trained professionals may become involved to provide you with the additional care and support that you need.


Not all medicines are safe for use in pregnancy and it is vitally important that you consult your doctor before you take any medication regularly or purchase a product over the counter. Midwives and pharmacists will also be able to give advice on medicine safety.


Flu and whooping cough vaccines are recommended in pregnancy and your midwife will advise on when and where is best to receive them and these vaccines are not live and carry no risk to mother or baby. Live vaccines, such as MMR and BCG, are not recommended in pregnancy. Flu and whooping cough vaccination should be repeated with every pregnancy, to ensure mothers are protected from the latest strains and to pass immunity to the baby before the first injections are given at eight weeks old.


A range of blood tests are routinely undertaken in pregnancy; however some inherited blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease and thalassaemia, can be detected at any time. If you or your partner are concerned you may be a carrier for one of these disorders and are planning to start a family, it can be a good idea to get tested before trying for a baby.


A nutritious diet before and during pregnancy will help your baby to develop and grow. You don’t need to go on a special diet, but it’s important to eat a variety of foods to get the right balance of nutrients for you and your baby. Dieting during pregnancy is not recommended.

Aiming to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day is a good start; dried fruit can also count, but do try avoid anything with added salt or sugar. Starchy foods such as potatoes, rice and pasta are important for energy and will help fill you up without containing too many calories.

Ensuring you have a good intake of protein daily is important too and sources include fish, poultry, pulses, beans and eggs, remember if you want to eat soft or runny eggs that you  look for a British Red Lion logo stamped on their shell as they are safe for pregnant women to eat cooked soft, as they come from flocks that have been vaccinated against salmonella. Other eggs are fine to eat along as the eggs have cooked until the white and the yolk is hard, but be aware that raw and partially cooked egg may be an ingredient in other foods such as mousse or mayonnaise.

There is no need to ‘eat for two’ while you are pregnant. Extra energy is not required until the third trimester, when only an additional 200 calories a day are needed to support this time of a baby’s rapid growth.

Some women do find that they are extra hungry during at certain stages of their pregnancy, so having a healthy breakfast each day that is high in fibre can help you to avoid snacking on foods that are more sugary and less nutritious.

If you are unsure of what you can or cannot eat during pregnancy particularly if you have specialist dietary requirements the RCM advises you discuss this with your midwife. Midwives play a key role in advising and supporting women to eat safely and healthily during their pregnancy.

It’s also worth remembering that you may qualify for the Healthy Start scheme, which provides vouchers to pregnant women and families who qualify. The vouchers can be used to buy milk and plain fresh and frozen vegetables at most shops in your local community.

If taking part in a class, such as yoga, aerobics or cycling, it is important the instructor is aware that you are pregnant

It’s important to keep physically active during pregnancy – moderate exercise will not harm a woman or her baby, with studies showing recreational exercise such as swimming or brisk walking to be beneficial. Studies have also shown the potential benefit of exercise not only for weight management, but in reducing the risk of gestational diabetes. We know that there is an increase of this condition in pregnancy particularly amongst obese women.

The exercise pregnant women take should reflect their previous exercise regime and pregnancy is not the time to take up a strenuous sport or to become exhausted
by vigorous exercise. If taking part in a class, such as yoga, aerobics or cycling, it is important the instructor is aware that you are pregnant.

If a woman has not exercised routinely before pregnancy she should begin with no more than 15 minutes of continuous exercise, three times per week, increasing gradually to daily 30-minute which is in line with the Chief Medical Officer recommendations.

Pelvic floor exercises are essential and safe for all women to practise in pregnancy to help prevent stress incontinence. Please do discuss pelvic floor exercise with your midwife and report any problems with incontinence, as this may require a physiotherapy referral.




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