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Preconception health for women

10-minute read

Key facts

  • You can increase your chances of falling pregnant and having a healthy baby by being as healthy as possible before you start trying to conceive.
  • Steps you can take before conceiving include quitting smoking and drinking, having a healthy diet and body weight.
  • You should have a medical check-up and discuss any supplements and medicines that you take with your doctor before you start trying to get pregnant.

Why does preconception health matter for women?

Being as healthy as possible in the months before you try to have a baby has been shown to boost your chances of falling pregnant.

It can also give your baby a better chance of good health throughout their whole life.

Studies have shown that poor health around the time you get pregnant can affect:

  • your baby's growth both in your womb and after they are born
  • labour and birth

If you want to get pregnant, these simple steps to take before you get pregnant can help you become as healthy and fit as possible:

  • be in a healthy weight range
  • quit smoking
  • take folic acid and iodine supplements
  • stop or reduce your alcohol intake
  • treat health conditions that could affect your fertility

If you had any complications with a previous pregnancy it's important that you discuss these with your doctor before you try to fall pregnant again.

Does my age affect my chance to conceive?

It's much easier for women to get pregnant before they turn 35. Your fertility starts to noticeably reduce in your early 30s. This decline is much quicker after the age of 35 years. After the age of 30 years, the risk that your baby will have a chromosomal or genetic difference also increases. This risk changes from about:

  • 1 in 400 for a woman aged 30 years
  • 1 in 100 for a woman aged 40 years

You are also more at risk of miscarriage and pregnancy complications and birth complications when you're older.

Should I take supplements?

See your doctor for a check-up if you are planning a pregnancy. They can talk to you about recommended pregnancy supplements. They may suggest a blood test to see if you are low in any nutrients.

Folic acid

Taking folic acid supplements before you get pregnant is important. Folic acid is important for making your baby's nervous system. Taking it can help prevent neural tube defects in your baby. It is recommended you take folic acid supplements at least one month before you conceive and for the first 3 months of your pregnancy.

You can buy folic acid supplements from pharmacies and supermarkets. Look for supplements that contain 400 to 500 micrograms (mg) of folic acid; they will normally be referred to as special pregnancy supplements. You can also get folate in foods like:

  • wholegrain bread
  • dark green leafy vegetables
  • dried beans, chickpeas, and lentils

Other supplements

Other supplements that may be good to take before getting pregnant include:

  • iodine (150 micrograms per day)
  • vitamin D — if your vitamin D level is low
  • iron — if you are iron deficient
  • vitamin B12 — if you are vegan or vegetarian
  • calcium — if you don't get enough calcium from your diet

It's recommended that all women take iodine for at least one month before trying to get pregnant.

Complementary and alternative medicines

Complementary and alternative medicines include:

  • acupuncture
  • aromatherapy
  • herbal medicines
  • hypnosis
  • massage

These medicines might help your general wellbeing, but there is currently limited evidence that they can improve your fertility.

It's always best to talk to your doctor before starting any complementary or alternative therapies.

What foods and supplements should I avoid when trying to get pregnant?

Foods and supplements you should avoid having before you start trying to get pregnant include:

  • Vitamin A supplements — they can increase the risk of miscarriage and other problems.
  • Fish that has high levels mercury — mercury can affect your baby's brain.
  • Caffeine — limit it to 2 to 3 standard cups of coffee per day because it can affect your baby's growth during pregnancy.
  • Alcohol — it's recommended that you avoid alcohol if you are trying to get pregnant.

Should I get a check-up before trying for a baby?

It's a good idea to have a general medical check-up before you try for a baby. You can talk to your doctor about any tests you might need, and whether you should avoid any medicines or complementary and alternative medicines.

Your doctor may suggest that you consider getting vaccinated against:

  • chickenpox
  • COVID-19
  • influenza
  • mumps
  • rubella

This is because pregnancy makes you more susceptible to certain infections. If you catch these infections whilst pregnant it increases the risk of complications for both you and your baby.

It's advised that you don't get pregnant for at least 28 days after some vaccinations.

Your health

Some conditions can affect your chances of falling pregnant.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) — most women with PCOS can still fall pregnant, but it might take longer. The best thing you can do is eat healthily, exercise regularly and look after your general health.

Endometriosis — about 3 in 10 women with endometriosis will have problems falling pregnant, but medicines and surgery can help. If you have endometriosis, see your doctor as early as possible before you try for a baby.

Diabetes — both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can affect your chances of falling pregnant. You should talk to your doctor about 3 to 6 months before you want to conceive to make sure your diabetes is under control. If you do fall pregnant, you will need special care to make sure your diabetes is well controlled.

Sexual health — check that you don't have a sexually transmitted infection, as this might lead to infertility. Having a test before you get pregnant also reduces the risk of passing on an infection to your baby.

If you have a medical condition like cancer, talk to your doctor if you think you'd like to have a baby. There are ways to preserve your fertility, such as freezing your eggs, but your doctor needs to know your wishes before any treatment starts.

Can my weight affect my chances of conceiving?

Being a healthy weight increases your chances of conceiving a healthy baby. Being overweight can affect ovulation (the release of an egg from your ovaries) and makes it harder to conceive. Being underweight can also affect your fertility.

The best way of achieving a healthy weight is to eat a nutritious diet and exercise regularly. If you are overweight or obese, even losing just a few kilos will help.

It's a good idea for you and your partner to encourage each other to lead a healthy lifestyle. Follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines and aim for a variety of healthy foods every day. Try to limit foods containing added salt, sugar and fat.

Every week, try to do: 2½ to 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity, or 1¼ to 2½ hours of vigorous intensity activity. Simply sitting less and moving more will help.

How should I prepare for a healthy pregnancy?

Stop smoking

There is no safe limit for smoking. It's important to quit at least 3 months before you start trying for a baby. Even inhaling other people's smoke (passive smoking) is dangerous in pregnancy.

Smokers are more likely to have a:

If you're still smoking when you fall pregnant, it's not too late — just quit as soon as you can.

Stop drinking alcohol

There is no safe level of alcohol during pregnancy. Drinking alcohol while you're pregnant can cause your baby to develop fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Not drinking while you are trying to get pregnant and while pregnant is the safest option.

You should also avoid illicit drugs.

Medicines

Talk with your doctor about any medicines that you currently take. These should include:

Your doctor will let you know if it's okay to keep taking them.

Don't stop taking any medicines without your doctor's advice.

Chemicals

Some chemicals that you may encounter both at work and in your home can affect your fertility. These include:

Those who work with these substances are at the most risk.

Talk to your doctor if you are concerned.

Genetic conditions

If you or your partner have a family history of genetic conditions, you can talk to your doctor about screening. It's better not to do a DNA test yourself.

Emotional health and wellbeing

It's also a good idea to talk to your doctor about your emotional health, domestic violence, or mental health conditions, as you may need more care and support during your pregnancy.

Resources and support

Your doctor can help you plan things you can do or change to help become pregnant and give your baby the best chance at being healthy.

To find out more about preconception health for men visit the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby webpage.

You can also visit Your Fertility for more information on female and male fertility.

For help quitting smoking, contact Quitline on 13 7848.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023


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Preconception health for men

Men's health affect their fertility. Learn how you can improve your fertility and increase the chances of you and your partner falling pregnant..

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Preconception health for men

Men's health affect their fertility. Learn how you can improve your fertility and increase the chances of you and your partner falling pregnant.

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Pre-conception checklists for men and women | Your Fertility

Planning to have a baby? Your first step is to make an appointment to see your doctor (with your partner if you have one) for a pre-conception health check

Read more on Your Fertility website

Pre-conception checklist for women

There are many things you can do to improve your chance of conceiving a healthy baby. Here’s a list of proven ways to get your body ready for pregnancy.

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Fertility explained | VARTA

Fertility is the ability to conceive a child. Most of us take our fertility for granted but the process of reproduction is complex, so some people may experience difficulties when trying for a baby. There are a range of factors that can affect fertility. Taking care of your preconception health by modifying your lifestyle can improve your chance of a pregnancy and the health of your future child. Medical conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis can reduce fertility, however it may just take longer to get pregnant. In some cases, medical procedures can be used to preserve fertility. Fertility preservation (freezing of gametes for later use) is used by people who are not ready to have a baby during their most fertile years or for those facing medical treatment that might impair their fertility. Understanding reproduction It is useful to understand how eggs and sperm are normally formed, and how conception occurs to understand the causes of infertility and how they are targeted in fertility treatment. The hormones which control the production of sperm and eggs are called gonadotrophins. There are two types of gonadotrophins: follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH). In men, they stimulate the testicles to produce sperm and testosterone. In women, they act on the ovaries where the eggs develop. The female sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, are produced by the ovaries when eggs mature and are released (ovulation).   For women, the production of sex hormones and the release of an egg is known as the menstrual cycle. It is counted from the first day of the period until the day before the start of the next period. In an average cycle of 28 days, ovulation happens on day 14. However, cycle length varies between women, and it is important to note that ovulation occurs earlier in women with shorter cycles and later in women with longer cycles. Sperm are produced at the rate of about 300 million per day. They take some 80 days to mature. Each sperm has a head, which contains the genetic material, and a tail, which propels it up through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes where the egg is fertilised. Conception occurs when an egg and a sperm come together. At ovulation, an egg is released from the ovary into the fallopian tube. If sperm is present at that time, the egg can be fertilised. The fertilised egg then starts to divide and becomes an embryo. After ovulation, the ovary produces progesterone which prepares the lining of the uterus - the endometrium - for the growing embryo. A few days after implantation, the embryo starts to produce human chorionic gonadotrophins (HCG) - the hormone that gives a positive pregnancy test reading. If an embryo does not form or attach to the endometrium (implantation), the level of progesterone drops and the next period starts.

Read more on Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority website

Ovulation and fertility

Knowing when you ovulate and having sex at the right time is important when you are trying to fall pregnant. Kits can help you predict ovulation.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Planning to have a baby | VARTA

Planning ahead If you are thinking about having a baby in future, there are some things you can do to improve your chances. Preconception is the period leading up to getting pregnant. This is a great time for both men and women to focus on ways to improve their health, and increase the chance of pregnancy and having a healthy baby. The earlier you start the conversations about having a baby, the better. Here are some things you and your partner (if any) should start thinking about now: the number of children you would like to have the age at which you would like to have your first and last child improving your health before you try booking a preconception health check with your GP. Your Fertility has practical ideas for how you can improve your preconception health including checklists for men and women. Improving fertility Age is the most important factor affecting a woman’s chance of conceiving.  Female fertility starts to decline around age 30 and after age 35 the monthly chance of conceiving decreases more rapidly. Age can also affect a man’s fertility and the chance of having a healthy baby. Certain lifestyle factors for both men and women also affect the ability to conceive, the health of the pregnancy, and the health of the future baby. A healthy weight, a nutritious diet and regular exercise can significantly boost fertility, as can quitting smoking, stopping drug use and curbing heavy drinking. When you are ready to try for a baby, it is important to know when conception is most likely to happen. In an average cycle of 28 days, ovulation happens on day 14. However, cycle length varies between women, and it is important to note that ovulation occurs earlier in women with shorter cycles and later in women with longer cycles. However, pregnancy is only possible during the five days before ovulation through to the day of ovulation. These six days are the ‘fertile window’ in a woman’s cycle, and reflect the lifespan of sperm (five days) and the lifespan of the egg (24 hours). Your Fertility’s ovulation calculator can help you work out the fertile window. Medical conditions and fertility PCOS Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal condition affecting up to one in five women of childbearing age. The condition affects two hormones, insulin and testosterone (male-like hormones), which may be produced in higher levels and can impact on fertility. Women with PCOS are prone to irregular menstrual cycles due to absent or infrequent ovulation. While the majority of women with PCOS become pregnant without fertility treatment, they often take longer to fall pregnant and are more likely to need treatment (ovulation induction or IVF) than women without PCOS. Despite this, studies show little difference between the number of children born to women with PCOS than to those without. Conception may sometimes occur as a result of lifestyle modification or after receiving medication to assist with ovulation (ovulation induction) and advice regarding the timing of sex. The most successful way to treat PCOS is by making healthy lifestyle changes. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly is the best way to reduce symptoms and increase fertility. If you have difficulty conceiving, your GP may refer you to a specialist clinician. Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation (MCHRI) has a list of questions that may be helpful. You can find more information and resources about PCOS at Your Fertility, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health and MCHRI. Endometriosis Endometriosis is a condition in which endometrium, the tissue that normally lines the womb (uterus), grows outside the uterus. Endometriosis may cause fibrous scar tissue to form on the uterus. It can also affect the ovaries, fallopian tubes and the bowel. Endometriosis may cause very painful periods and reduce fertility or cause infertility. You can find out more about endometriosis at Jean Hailes for Women’s Health and the Better Health Channel.

Read more on Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority website

Fertility awareness (natural family planning)

Fertility awareness is learning to recognise on which days of the month you are fertile. It can be used as a form of contraception or as a method to become pregnant.

Read more on healthdirect website

Fertility awareness (natural family planning)

Fertility awareness means not having sex during the fertile times in a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Read more on WA Health website

Natural Family Planning | Fertility Awareness | Natural Contraception | Rhythm Method - Sexual Health Victoria

Natural family planning (or fertility awareness) is avoiding sex around the time of the month where you are fertile (most likely to get pregnant).

Read more on Sexual Health Victoria website

Permanent Contraception: Female Sterilisation | Family Planning NSW

Female sterilisation is a permanent form of contraception. It's a surgical procedure to block the fallopian tubes that carry the egg to the uterus.

Read more on Family Planning Australia website

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