Trying for a baby

There may be some things you can do to improve your chances of getting pregnant. Your GP should tell you more about the following.

How often to have sexual intercourse

To give yourselves the best chance of success, try to have sexual intercourse every 2 to 3 days. If you are under psychological stress, it can affect your relationship and is likely to reduce your sex drive. If this means you do not have sex as often as usual, this may also affect you or your partner's chances of getting pregnant.

Smoking

Smoking is likely to reduce fertility in women. Breathing in someone else's cigarette smoke (passive smoking) is also likely to reduce a woman's chances of getting pregnant. If you smoke, your GP should offer you help to stop if you wish. The NHS Smoking Helpline can also provide advice and support – the phone number is 0300 123 1044 and the website is www.smokefree.nhs.uk.

For men, there is a link between smoking and poorer semen quality (though the effect of this on fertility is uncertain). Stopping smoking will improve your general health.

Alcohol

For men, your fertility is unlikely to be affected if your alcohol consumption is within the recommended limit of 3 to 4 units of alcohol per day. A pint of normal‑strength beer is about 2 units and a small (125 ml) glass of wine is about 1.5 units (for more information visit www.nhs.uk/alcohol). Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can affect semen quality.

In women, alcohol can harm developing babies. If you are trying to get pregnant you can cut down the risk of harming your unborn baby by drinking no more than 1 or 2 units of alcohol once or twice a week.

Body weight

The range of healthy weight is defined by the body mass index (BMI). A healthy weight is a BMI of between 20 and 25.

It can take longer to get pregnant if you are underweight (your BMI is under 19) or you are obese (your BMI is 30 or above). If you are underweight or overweight and you have irregular or no periods, reaching a healthy weight will help your ovaries to start working again.

If you are overweight, taking part in a group exercise and diet programme gives you a better chance of getting pregnant than trying to lose weight on your own.

Men who have a BMI of 30 or above are likely to have reduced fertility.

Your work

At work, some people are exposed to X‑rays, pesticides or other things that may affect their fertility. Your GP should ask you about the work that you do, and should advise you about any possible risks to your fertility.

Medicines and drugs

Some prescription and over-the-counter medicines can interfere with your fertility. Your GP should ask you about any medicines you are taking and offer you appropriate advice. They should also ask you about recreational drugs (such as cannabis, cocaine and anabolic steroids) as these can also interfere with your fertility and damage a developing baby.

Other factors

Other actions that people try to improve their fertility include reducing their caffeine intake (from drinks such as tea, coffee and cola) and using complementary therapies. However, it is not clear if there is an association between caffeine intake and fertility, and complementary therapies are not recommended because there has not been enough research looking at whether they improve fertility.

Men also sometimes try wearing loose‑fitting underwear to help fertility. Higher temperatures in the scrotum can reduce semen quality, but it is not clear whether wearing loose‑fitting underwear improves fertility.

Preparing for pregnancy

Folic acid

Women who are trying to get pregnant should take folic acid tablets (0.4 mg a day). Taking folic acid when you are trying for a baby and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy reduces the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects (where parts of the brain or spinal cord do not form properly), such as spina bifida. If you have previously had a child with a neural tube defect, are taking medication for epilepsy, or have diabetes, you should take a larger dose of 5 mg a day.

Rubella (German measles)

Women should be offered a test to find out whether you are immune to rubella. If you are not immune you should have a rubella vaccination before you try to become pregnant, because infection with rubella can harm unborn babies. You should avoid pregnancy for 1 month after your rubella vaccination.

Cervical smear tests

Your GP should ask you when you last had a cervical smear test and what the result was. If a cervical smear test is due, you should have this test before you try to get pregnant.

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