Starting your pregnancy in good health

You can improve your chances of getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy.

If you are trying to have a baby or are just thinking about it, it is never too early to start getting ready for pregnancy. Preconception health and health care focus on things you can do before and between pregnancies to increase the chances of having a healthy baby.


It’s recommended that if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant you should not drink alcohol. This will keep any risk to your baby to a minimum.

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

If you drink more than 10 units per week during pregnancy your midwife/doctor will offer you a referral to Action for Change (Community Alcohol Team) for help and support.

A healthy diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle at any time but is especially vital if you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy. Eating healthily during pregnancy will help your baby to develop and grow.

You do not need to go on a special diet, but it’s important to eat a variety of different foods every day to get the right balance of nutrients that you and your baby need.

It’s best to get vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat, but when you’re pregnant you need to take a folic acid supplement as well, to make sure you get everything you need.

Read more about vitamins and supplements in pregnancy.

There are also certain foods that should be avoided in pregnancy.

Read more about a having a healthy diet in pregnancy.

Prescription and non-prescription drugs can have an affect on your growing baby and your doctor will only prescribe medicines where the benefits are greater than the risks.

Dependence on heroin and other drugs can lead to maternal infection, neglect and malnourishment. This is partly responsible for baby’s born with low birth weight, premature birth and neonatal withdrawal.

Drug use during and after pregnancy can also have a serious affect on the emotional, cognitive and behavioural development of children. It is important that you receive help and support from specialist substance misuse services.

Some prescription and non-prescription drugs can also have an effect on breastfeeding and if it is safe to do so, our maternity team will be able to advise you on the safest options.

The more active and fit you are, the easier it will be for you to cope comfortably with your changing shape and weight during pregnancy, the demands of labour and looking after a newborn baby.

Regular walking, swimming and yoga are particularly good. It is not a good idea to start doing vigorous exercise if your body is not already used to it.

Please ask your midwife or GP for further advice.

Taking Folic Acid – 400 micrograms per day – when you are trying to get pregnant or during the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy will reduce the risk of your baby having a neural tube defect, such as Spina bifida, which causes damage to the baby’s nervous system.

You do not need to take any iron supplements as a matter of routine when you are pregnant. They do not improve your health and can give unpleasant side effects such as constipation.

High levels of vitamin A could cause abnormalities in your baby. Avoid taking vitamin A supplements and eating liver (or anything made from liver) while you are pregnant.

The following foods may contain elements which could be harmful to your unborn child and you are advised to avoid them:

  • Soft/blue cheeses
  • Unpasteurised milk products
  • Raw meats, pâtés, liver, raw/soft eggs
  • Shellfish, swordfish, marlin, shark (mercury content)
  • More than two portions of tuna a week

If you are overweight, it is a good idea to lose some weight before you get pregnant.

Raised BMI (body mass index) has been shown to be linked to an increased risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy, emergency caesarean section in labour, increased risk of needing to be induced, increased risk of excessive bleeding after birth, and numerous other problems such as an increased risk of pre-exclampsia.

We therefore strongly recommend that women try to normalise their weight prior to conceiving.

Smoking while pregnant can be harmful to your baby and can damage your own health. It is a good idea to stop smoking before you get pregnant; this also has a positive effect on your fertility. Encourage your partner, if he smokes, to give up, too – second-hand smoke still contains harmful chemicals that can harm your baby.

Free help and advice is available from the local stop smoking service ‘One You East Sussex

This is an infection which is not usually dangerous to healthy adults and children but could harm an unborn baby. We do not routinely test for this infection but would advise the following precautions:

  • If you do not have to pick up or handle cats, then don’t
  • Cat owners, in particular, should take extra care since the infection can be caught from cat faeces – you should, for example, wear rubber gloves when changing cat litter
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before preparing any food
  • Ensure raw meats are stored separately at the bottom of your fridge and only eat meat which has been cooked thoroughly
  • Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly to remove all traces of soil

Specialised antenatal advice

If you suffer from any long term health conditions which can effect or be affected by pregnancy, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • High blood pressure
  • HIV Positive

and are thinking of having a baby or are already pregnant, we can offer support and advice from the start at our specialist antenatal clinics we run at Conquest Hospital and Eastbourne DGH.

These clinics are run by a multidisciplinary team of obstetricians, midwives, endocrinologist, anaesthetists, physicians, and diabetic specialist nurses. Your midwife or GP can help you to get an appointment with this clinic.