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.
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 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:
- herbal medicines
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:
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.
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.
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?
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
Not drinking while you are trying to get pregnant and while pregnant is the safest option.
You should also avoid illicit drugs.
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.
Some chemicals that you may encounter both at work and in your home can affect your fertility. These include:
- heavy metals
- some other household chemicals — such as paints or nail treatments
Those who work with these substances are at the most risk.
Talk to your doctor if you are concerned.
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