Pregnancy charity Tommy’s has today launched a Planning for Pregnancy online tool to help mothers-to-be ensure they are as healthy as possible to carry a baby.
While two thirds of women spend three or more months planning for a holiday, only one in five do the same amount of preparation when planning a pregnancy, according to the charity’s research.
The survey found women are often not visiting medics to discuss their pregnancy plans, and are not taking key steps to reduce risks for themselves and their babies.
And poor lifestyle choices like eating junk food, not exercising, and smoking and drinking mean women’s bodies are not well prepared for motherhood.
Stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol and caffeine, taking folic acid and being physically active are all important for a healthy pregnancy, Tommy’s says.
The new tool asks questions about a woman’s health and lifestyle and offers tailored advice for making sure their fertility and pregnancy health are as good as possible.
One expert says: ‘Good pre-conception health plays a crucial role in the health of women and their babies and on into childhood.’
Pregnancy health charity Tommy’s says women should plan their pregnancies further in advance so they can make sure they are as fertile and healthy as possible
In a survey of more than 750 women, Tommy’s – which funds research into miscarriage and other pregnancy issues – found 67 per cent of women plan for three or more months for a holiday.
However, only 20 per cent spend the same amount of time preparing to become pregnant.
And 40 per cent stop using contraception the same week they make the decision to have a baby.
The charity says women should allow more time to make changes to their own health which could affect their fertility or the health of the baby.
Folic acid should be taken before conception
For example, folic acid should be taken from two months before conception to build up the vitamin in the body and reduce the risk of brain and spinal defects in the baby.
Tommy’s Planning for Pregnancy online questionnaire provides tailored information on what they can do before pregnancy to have a healthy pregnancy and baby.
It asks women to answer 22 questions about themselves, including about their smoking and drinking habits, their mental and physical health, whether they have been tested for sexually transmitted infections, and about their family history.
The tool then gives tailored advice on which areas of their health women should work to improve, for example stopping smoking or cutting down on caffeine.
WHAT LIFESTYLE CHOICES SHOULD YOU MAKE BEFORE BECOMING PREGNANT?
Pregnancy health charity Tommy’s says parents’ weight, diet and health before conception has a big effect on the safety of the pregnancy, and the growth, development and long-term health of their children.
Here are the six lifestyle choices the Planning for Pregnancy tool says are important for mothers-to-be:
Smokers take longer to get pregnant than non-smokers and smoking can damage your baby’s DNA, increases your risk of pregnancy loss, and puts your baby at higher risk of illness through their whole lives. Smoking in pregnancy causes up to 2,200 premature births, 5,000 miscarriages and 300 perinatal deaths per year in the UK.
Stop drinking alcohol
Alcohol reduces the fertility of both men and women, meaning people who drink will take longer to conceive, and it is bad for the baby once the woman is pregnant. Alcohol crosses the placenta and there is no known safe level of alcohol to drink during pregnancy.
Women who are not active have been shown to take longer to get pregnant, and being inactive during pregnancy increases the risk of complications. It is safe for mothers to exercise during pregnancy and they are encouraged to do so. The NHS recommends adults do at least two-and-a-half hours of moderate exercise (such as cycling or fast walking) every week.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being obese – having a BMI of 30 or higher – means it takes longer to get pregnant. Overweight mothers are also more likely to suffer dangerous conditions like pre-eclampsia and pregnancy-related diabetes, and the risk of having a miscarriage is also higher.
Cut down on caffeine
Having too much caffeine has been shown to affect fertility, and high levels of caffeine during pregnancy can result in babies having a low birth weight, which can increase the risk of health problems in later life. Too much caffeine can also increase the risk of miscarriage. Experts recommend drinking no more than the equivalent to two mugs of instant coffee per day.
A healthy, balanced diet is the best diet for improving fertility. Cutting down on sugar and saturated fats and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables will provide the right mix of nutrients. When pregnant, women should eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day – at least three portions of vegetables – to get the right amount of vitamins and minerals for the baby’s development.
‘It is harder to inform women of risks before they conceive’
Tommy’s chief executive Jane Brewin said: ‘We know that lack of folic acid, smoking, inadequate nutrition, lack of physical activity and having a high BMI are all things that contribute to negative pregnancy outcomes, and it’s almost too late to tackle these after conception.
‘Once women and their partners are pregnant they get a wide range of information from all sorts of sources.
‘But in the pre-conception period, when they are not talking to health professionals about their intentions, it’s much harder to make sure they are informed about things they can do to reduce their risks.
‘This is not about guilt or blame, it simply provides the information and support to allow women to make informed decisions.’
Women in the survey also got pregnant quicker than they expected to, highlighting a need to start preparations early.
Fewer than five per cent of women expected to become pregnant within a month, but 25.3 per cent of them did.
‘Good pre-conception health plays a crucial role’
Tommy’s gives detailed advice on how couples can maximise the health of mother and baby, which includes making sure the mother is a healthy weight, does not smoke and is mentally healthy.
Professor Viv Bennett, director of maternity and early years at Public Health England said: ‘Good pre-conception health – how women are in the weeks, months and years leading up to pregnancy – plays a crucial role in the health of women and their babies and on into childhood.
‘We need to provide clear information and support women who want to have a family in the future to start making positive changes to improve their health now – in advance of becoming pregnant, to help give every child the best start in life.’
The online tool was created alongside the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Public Health England and the UCL Institute for Women’s Health.
HOW TO USE THE PREGNANCY PLANNING TOOL
Take the online quiz here.
The online Planning for Pregnancy tool gives women advice on how to have a healthy pregnancy
The survey is anonymous and after clicking start you will be asked to answers questions about your body and your lifestyle, including height, weight, alcohol, caffeine and drug consumption, smoking and exercise habits, diet and mental health.
You will also be asked about medication and complications in previous pregnancies, you family medical history and ancestry, and whether you have had a cervical screening test or been tested for sexually transmitted infections.
At the end of the questionnaire the website uses a traffic light system to highlight the areas you need to focus on to improve your pregnancy health. Each section can be clicked on for a breakdown of why it might cause a problem and what can be done to improve it.
The Planning for Pregnancy tool gives a breakdown of which areas of your health you need to focus on, and each can be clicked for more detailed information
‘A healthy diet and weight will improve health of future generations’
Professor Lesley Regan, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists added: ‘Nutrition and lifestyle in the preconception period is crucial to having a good pregnancy and birth.
‘In the UK, the high prevalence of obesity means that one in four pregnant women are overweight or obese.
‘Diet, weight and the body’s metabolism prior to conception impacts on the chances of conceiving naturally, having a good pregnancy and delivery, as well as affecting the health of children in their later life.
‘Focussing on the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and weight prior to conception will not only improve the health of individuals, but also the health and quality of life of future generations.’