You can improve your chances of getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy by following the steps on this page.
Take a folic acid supplement
It's recommended that all women who could get pregnant should take a daily supplement of folic acid.
You should take a 400 microgram supplement of folic acid every day before you get pregnant, and every day afterwards, up until you're 12 weeks pregnant.
A microgram is 1,000 times smaller than a milligram (mg). The word microgram is sometimes written with the Greek symbol μ followed by the letter g (μg).
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's spinal cord (part of the body's nervous system) does not form normally.
Some women are advised to take a higher dose supplement of 5 milligram (5mg) every day.
You may need to take a 5mg supplement of folic acid if:
- you or the baby's biological father have a neural tube defect
- you previously had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
- you or the baby's biological father have a family history of neural tube defects
- you have diabetes
- you take anti-epilepsy medicine
Talk to a GP if you think you need a 5mg dose of folic acid, as they can prescribe a higher dose.
You can get folic acid tablets at pharmacies, or talk to a GP about getting a prescription.
Do not worry if you get pregnant unexpectedly and were not taking a folic acid supplement at the time. Start taking them as soon as you find out, until you're past the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
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
- breathing problems or wheezing in the first 6 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.
It offers free help, support and advice on stopping smoking, including when you're pregnant, and can give you details of local support services.
Smoke from other people's cigarettes can damage your baby, so ask your partner, friends and family not to smoke near you.
Cut out alcohol
Do not 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.
Keep 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 find out your BMI. But this may not be accurate once you're pregnant, so consult your midwife or doctor.
Having a healthy diet and doing moderate exercise are advised in pregnancy, and it's important not to gain too much weight.
Find out about foods to avoid when you're pregnant.
Know which medicines you can take
Not all medicines are safe to take when you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy, whether they're on prescription or medicines you can buy in a pharmacy or shop.
If you take prescribed medicine and you're planning to get pregnant, talk to a doctor.
Do not stop taking your medicine without talking to a doctor.
Get flu and whooping cough vaccinations
Some infections, such as rubella (German measles), can harm your baby if you catch them during pregnancy.
Most people in the UK are immune to rubella, thanks to the uptake of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination.
If you have not had 2 doses of the MMR vaccine, or you're not sure if you have, ask your GP surgery to check your vaccination history.
If you have not had both doses or there's no record available, you can have the vaccinations at your GP surgery.
You should avoid getting pregnant for 1 month after having the MMR vaccination, which means you'll need a reliable method of contraception.
Find out about other 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.
Talk to a doctor 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's usually no reason why you should not 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 a GP about getting pregnant.
If you're taking medicine for a condition, do not stop taking it without talking to a doctor.
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 do not 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 1 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 a GP or a local sickle cell and thalassaemia centre.
Find out more about screening for sickle cell and thalassaemia in pregnancy
More about having a healthy pregnancy
- Antenatal care
- The vitamins and supplements you should and should not take in pregnancy (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)
- the national sexual health helpline, call 0300 123 7123
- FPA (provided by Sexwise)
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Media review due: 21 October 2023