Planning for pregnancy

If you’re planning to grow your family, there are things that you and your partner can do to help your chances of becoming pregnant.

Preconception care is a chance for you and your partner to improve your health before you start trying for a baby. A healthcare professional can help you to assess your health, fitness and lifestyle, and to identify areas that you may want to improve.

Preconception care may be useful if:

  • You want to find out how a condition such as diabetes or epilepsy can affect pregnancy.

  • You’re having trouble conceiving.

  • There is a risk that you could pass on a genetic condition, such as sickle cell disease or thalassaemia to your baby.

  • You know that your lifestyle could be better and you want to make positive changes.

Allow plenty of time for preconception planning and care before you start to try for a baby.

You will increase your chances of getting pregnant if both you and your partner are in good health. A bad diet, being overweight or obese, smoking, drinking and unhealthy working conditions can affect the quality of sperm and make it more difficult for you to get pregnant. You should both try to make your lifestyle as healthy as possible before you try to conceive. If you want to make positive changes before trying for a baby, Live Well Dorset, is a free service that offers information and advice on making healthy lifestyle changes.

If you need advice about preconception care before trying for a baby, your general practitioner (GP) can give you more information. Preconception care is sometimes provided by practice nurses, health visitors, family planning clinics and Well Woman clinics. Speak to your GP to find out what’s available.

Improve your chances

There are lots of things that you can do as a couple to improve your chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy:

It’s recommended that you should take a daily supplement of folic acid when you’re pregnant, or there’s a chance you might get pregnant.

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.

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.

You may need to take a 5mg supplement of folic acid if:

  • you or the baby’s other biological parent have a neural tube defect
  • you previously had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
  • you or the baby’s other biological parent 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
  • miscarriage
  • breathing problems or wheezing in the first 6 months of life

Quitting can be hard, no matter how much you want to, but support is available.

Smoke from other people’s cigarettes can damage your baby, so ask your partner, friends and family not to smoke near you.


Local support to stop smoking from Live Well Dorset

Use of e-cigarettes in pregnancy

Do not drink alcohol if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Alcohol can be passed to your unborn baby.

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


Get local support to cut out alcohol from Live Well Dorset

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, deep vein thrombosis, 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.

You can keep to a healthy weight by having a balanced diet and doing regular exercise.


Get local support for maintaining a healthy weight from Live Well Dorset

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.


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.

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.


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.

If you are pregnant and live in England you will be 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.


Pregnancy happens when sperm enters a vagina, travels through the cervix and womb to the fallopian tube and fertilises an egg.You’re more likely to get pregnant around the time you are ovulating. This is when an egg becomes ready and you are at your most fertile.

If you are under 40 and have regular sex without using contraception, there is an 8 in 10 chance you will get pregnant within 1 year.

How to increase your chances of getting pregnant

There are things you and your partner can do to increase the chances of getting pregnant.


  • have sex every 2 to 3 days without using contraception – make sure sperm enters the vagina
  • try to have sex around the time you are ovulating – this is usually 12 to 16 days before your period starts
  • try to maintain a healthy weight, cut down or stop drinking alcohol and do not smoke – it can help if your partner does this too

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • you have been trying to get pregnant for over 1 year
  • you have a long term condition such as diabetes and want advice about pregnancy
  • there is a risk of passing on a condition such as sickle cell disease to your baby
  • you regularly take medicines and want to get pregnant – some medicines can affect a pregnancy
  • you are aged 36 and over and want to get pregnant


It’s impossible to say how long it takes to get pregnant because it’s different for each woman.Many factors can affect a couple’s chances of conceiving, such as:

  • your age
  • your general health
  • your reproductive health
  • how often you have sex

Some women become pregnant quickly, while others take longer. This may be upsetting, but it’s normal.


Most couples (about 84 out of every 100) will get pregnant within a year if they have regular sex and don’t use contraception.

But women become less fertile as they get older. One study found that among couples having regular unprotected sex:

  • aged 19 to 26 – 92% will conceive after 1 year and 98% after 2 years
  • aged 35 to 39 – 82% will conceive after 1 year and 90% after 2 years

The effect of age on men’s fertility is less clear.

What does ‘regular sex’ mean?

Having regular sex means having sex every 2 to 3 days throughout the month.

Some couples may try to time having sex with when the woman ovulates (releases an egg).

But guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises that this can be stressful and it isn’t recommended.

Fertility problems

Fertility problems affect 1 in 7 couples in the UK.

Lots of factors can cause fertility problems, including:

  • hormonal (endocrine) disorders, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and problems with the thyroid or pituitary glands
  • physical disorders, such as obesity, anorexia nervosa or excessive exercise
  • disorders of the reproductive system, such as infections, blocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis or a low sperm count

Some of these factors affect either women or men. In around 40% of infertile couples, there’s a problem with both the man and woman.

The most common cause is ovulation failure (which can be caused by lots of different things) and sperm disorders.

In 25% of couples, fertility problems can’t be explained.

Getting help

If you have been trying for a baby for 1 to 2 years without success, see your GP for advice.


IVF and other fertility treatments

Fertility treatment in Dorset

If you’re having trouble getting pregnant, you should start by speaking to your GP. They can give you advice on improving your chances of getting pregnant. It’s important to remember that, even when there are no underlying fertility issues, it can take up to a year for a couple to become pregnant.

If these measures don’t work, your GP can refer you to a fertility specialist for a treatment such as IVF.

In order to qualify for fertility treatment on the NHS, you and your partner will need to meet the criteria set by NHS Dorset. We recommend that you read through this carefully, and speak to your GP if you have any concerns. Factors including your age, weight, smoker status and length of your relationship are all taken into account. If you need to make changes in order to qualify, such as losing weight or quitting smoking, your GP can support you in this.