Your health, both before conception and during pregnancy, will affect your developing baby.

There are certain things you can do before even before you conceive that will help you give your baby the best start possible. Remember, if it affects your body then it affects your baby.

stop drinking alcohol

Alcohol can damage both the sperm and the egg before conception. It can affect your baby as it develops and can cause stillbirth. Some cases of brain damage, growth problems and mental retardation have been associated with alcohol consumption during and before pregnancy.

stop smoking

If you are planning or expecting a baby stop smoking today. Smoking is one of the most damaging things you can do to your baby. Smoking can contribute to stillbirth and miscarriage and you are more likely to have a low birth weight baby. Babies subjected to passive smoking carry a greater risk of cot death, breathing difficulties and other health problems.

If you need to help to quit call Quitline, your GP or Action on Smoking & Health who can tell you more about the effects of smoking and passive smoking on contraception, pregnancy and breastfeeding.

recreational drugs & medicines

You should never use recreational drugs whilst pregnant or trying to conceive. They will affect your baby’s development and can cause serious, permanent damage. Sharing needles will increase the risk of contracting AIDS or HIV and these can be passed to your baby in the womb.

If you are taking medication for any pre-existing medical conditions you should always get advice from your GP before you attempt to get pregnant. They may recommend a change of drug or dosage level to protect you and your baby. Similarly, once you know you are pregnant you should take doctors advice before taking any medications whether prescribed or over-the-counter.


Check that you have been immunised against Rubella (German Measles). If you haven’t, and you contract it during pregnancy your baby may suffer damage such as blindness, deafness and other disabilities. SENSE (The National Deafblind Rubella Association) can give you more information.

your diet

It is very important to eat a balanced diet during your pregnancy and, preferably, when you’re trying for a baby. Your body will need increased calories and nutrients to help your baby develop properly and to keep you healthy. Here are some of the most important things your body needs: –


Fibre is very important, especially if you are suffering from constipation or piles.

  • Try to eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholemeal pasta, rice and bread.


Vitamins are an essential part of any healthy diet. You should aim to get your vitamins from what you eat and never take vitamin supplements without consulting your doctor. Taking vitamins in very high quantities can be toxic.

  • All sorts of fruit and vegetables will provide you with vitamins. Watercress and spinach are very rich in vitamins and recommended during pregnancy. Some of the vitamins you need only come from animals so if you don’t eat meat or dairy produce you should consult your doctor, who may prescribe certain supplements.

folic acid

Your baby needs folic acid to aid the development of his nervous system. It is also believed that folic acid will help protect your baby from certain neural defects like Spina Bifida. The Department of Health now recommends that all women take a daily folic acid supplement of 400mcg, ideally before conception, up to the twelfth week of pregnancy.

  • Folic acid can be found in green leafy vegetables like spinach and broccoli, bread, lentils and in some breakfast cereals. Marmite is also a good source.


You will need a combination of simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are sugars and provide you with quick sources of energy. Complex carbohydrates are starches. These starches need to be broken down into simple carbohydrates before your body can absorb them so they provide a steady and prolonged source of energy.

  • Fruits, wholewheat pasta and rice, potatoes and wholewheat bread are good sources of carbohydrates.


Iron is needed by the red blood cells that take oxygen to your baby and around your body. You will need a steady and continuous supply of iron throughout your pregnancy. Remember that your blood volume increases when you are pregnant and iron deficiency may cause anaemia, which can make you feel unusually tired and light-headed.

  • Cereals, fish, egg yolk, baked beans and lean red meat are all sources of iron. Some women swear by a glass of stout or red wine but it’s best to check with your doctor.


Eating foods that are rich in zinc is important because iron can affect how it is absorbed into your body.

  • Eggs, nuts, wholewheat and wheatgerm foods as well as onions can supply you with zinc.


Remember that your own body fluids and volume of blood will increase by around 50% during pregnancy so you will need to drink more.

  • Water is definitely best but pure, unsweetened fruit juices are fine too.


It is important to have a high intake of calcium rich foods before conception and throughout your pregnancy. Your baby’s bones will be starting to form from as early as four weeks into the pregnancy – even before some women realise they are pregnant!

  • Drink plenty of milk and eat cheese, yoghurt, sardines or other small fish with bones, Soya, dried figs and peanuts.


Proteins are essential as they from the basic structure of cells that make up your baby’s bones, muscles and parts of some organs. The amount of protein your body needs increases by 30% during pregnancy.

Meat, fish and poultry are good sources of protein, as are pulses, nuts and wholewheat bread.

your weight

Being too overweight or underweight can make pregnancy difficult for you and your baby. Eat a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables. The fitter you are before pregnancy, the easier it will be to cope with the strains and stresses it puts on your body. You will also find it easier to get back in shape after the birth.

Your Environment

Be aware of potential hazards in your home and work place. Passive smoking, heavy lifting and substances you come into contact with can all affect the well being of you and your baby. Check with your employer and take care to avoid any situations which are potentially hazardous

Your Age

The older the parents are, the greater the chances of chromosomal abnormalities like Down’s Syndrome. Most mothers over 30 will be offered tests which detect these abnormalities. Whatever your age, speak to your doctor if you are at all concerned.