Pregnancy and baby

Planning your pregnancy

You can improve your chances of getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy by following the steps on this page.

Get advice on:

Folic acid 

Stopping smoking 

Cutting out alcohol 

Keeping to a healthy weight 

Vaccinations and infections 

If you have long-term condition 

Testing for sickle cell and thalassaemia 

More about having a healthy pregnancy

Folic acid

Take a 400 microgram (400mcg) supplement of folic acid every day while you're trying to get pregnant, and up until you're 12 weeks pregnant. 

Folic acid reduces the risk of your baby having a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida.

A neural tube defect is when the foetus' spinal cord (part of the body's nervous system) doesn't form normally.

Women with epilepsydiabetes and other medical conditions are advised to take a 5 milligram (5mg) supplement.

You can get folic acid tablets at pharmacies, or talk to your GP about getting a prescription.

Don't worry if you get pregnant unexpectedly and weren't taking folic acid supplements. Start taking them as soon as you find out, until you're past the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Read more about healthy diet in pregnancy and foods to avoid when you're pregnant.

Stopping smoking

Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to a variety of health problems, including:

  • premature birth
  • low birth weight
  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – also known as cot death
  • miscarriage
  • breathing problems or wheezing in the first six months of life

You can find useful information on the dangers of smoking during pregnancy and advice on how to stop on the Smokefree website.

Quitting can be hard, no matter how much you want to, but support is available.

The NHS Pregnancy Smoking Helpline on 0800 169 9169 offers free help, support and advice on stopping smoking when you're pregnant.

It's open from 12pm to 9pm every day, and a specially trained person will talk to you. They can send you a free information pack and give you details of your local NHS Stop Smoking service.

Smoke from other people's cigarettes can damage your baby, so ask your partner, friends and family not to smoke near you.

Read more about smoking and pregnancy.

Cutting out alcohol

Don't drink alcohol if you're pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Alcohol can be passed to your unborn baby. The Chief Medical Officers recommend that the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all.

Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to your baby, and the more you drink the greater the risk.

Find out about alcohol and pregnancyalcohol units and tips for cutting down.

Keeping to a healthy weight

If you're overweight, you may have problems getting pregnant, and fertility treatment is less likely to work.

Being overweight – having a BMI over 25 – or obese – having a BMI over 30 – also raises the risk of some pregnancy problems, such as high blood pressure, blood clots, miscarriage and gestational diabetes.

Before you get pregnant you can use the BMI healthy weight calculator to work out your BMI. However, this may not be accurate once you're pregnant, so consult your midwife or doctor.

Having a healthy diet and getting moderate exercise are advised in pregnancy, and it's important not to gain too much weight. You can keep to a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and getting exercise.

Vaccinations and infections

Some infections, such as rubella (german measles), can harm your baby if you catch them in pregnancy.

Most people in the UK are immune to rubella thanks to the uptake of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination.

If you haven't had two doses of the MMR vaccine or you're not sure if you have, ask your GP practice to check your vaccination history.

If you haven't had both doses or there's no record available, you can have the vaccinations at your GP practice.

You should avoid getting pregnant for one month after having the MMR vaccination, which means you'll need a reliable method of contraception.

Find out about infections during pregnancy that can harm your baby and what you can do to reduce your risk of getting them, including cytomegalovirus (CMV), parvovirus (slapped cheek syndrome) and toxoplasmosis.

If you have a long-term condition

If you have a long-term condition, such as epilepsy or diabetes, it could affect the decisions you make about your pregnancy – for example, where you might want to give birth.

While there is usually no reason why you shouldn't have a smooth pregnancy and a healthy baby, some health conditions do need careful management to minimise risks to both you and your baby.

Before you get pregnant, have a discussion with your specialist or GP about getting pregnant. If you're taking medication for a condition, don't stop taking it without consulting your doctor.

You can find out more about:

Testing for sickle cell and thalassaemia

Sickle cell disease (SCD) and thalassaemia are inherited blood disorders that mainly affect people whose ancestors come from Africa, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, India, Pakistan, south and southeast Asia, and the Middle East.

Pregnant women in England are offered screening tests for these disorders, but you don't have to wait until you're pregnant before you have a test.

If you or your partner are concerned you may be a carrier for one of these disorders, perhaps because someone in your family has a blood disorder or is a carrier, it's a good idea to get tested before starting a family.

You can ask for a free blood test from either your GP or a local sickle cell and thalassaemia centre.

Read more about screening for sickle cell and thalassaemia in pregnancy

More about having a healthy pregnancy

Antenatal care 

Vitamins and supplements that you should take or avoid, such as taking folic acid and avoiding vitamin A.

You can also get information and advice from:

  • your doctor
  • a community family planning (contraceptive) clinic
  • a pharmacist
  • Brook (under-25s only)
  • FPA
  • your local young people's services – call 0300 123 7123

Find health services near you.

Page last reviewed: 14/07/2016

Next review due: 14/07/2018

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Media last reviewed: 21/02/2015

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