One of the questions I often get asked is: "What should I do to prepare my body for pregnancy?" Trying to start a family can be a challenge, and many women want to know all the facts to give themselves the best chance of conception and give their baby the best start in life.
If you're thinking about trying to have a baby - whether you are considering IVF or not - then I'd advise talking it through with your doctor. There are a lot of myths about what can help you get pregnant and navigating your way through to the facts, on your path to starting a family, can be difficult. I encourage women to look at the science behind the claims, listen to your own body and check the facts and share information, with friends and family. That's one of the reasons why I held a Baby Party on 12th May, for families we have supported over the last 13 years, to give them the opportunity to come together and talk about their experiences with each other.
There are lots of things to think about if you're thinking about having a baby, from baby names to schools to financial planning. With so much to think about, it's good to start with the basics, and there are 5 things I'd encourage you to think carefully about if you're thinking about starting a family.
#1 Think about stopping smoking. NHS Choices says that 'smoking may reduce fertility in women by reducing egg quality and that includes passive smoking'; the website includes sources of advice if you are trying to quit. A recent paper reviewing scientific evidence, by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said that 'substantial harmful effects of cigarette smoke on fecundity [the ability to reproduce] and reproduction have become apparent but are not generally appreciated.' Research shows that smoking can also linked to early menopause.
#2 Try to achieve your optimal weight. NHS advice says that 'being overweight or underweight can affect your chances of conceiving. Too much or too little body fat can make your periods irregular or stop them completely, which can affect your ability to conceive.' The American Society for Reproductive Medicine also found that obesity is associated with decreased fertility and increased risk of miscarriages.
#3 Think about the best times to try to get pregnant. There are lots of tools and apps to help women calculate when they are about to ovulate (when your ovaries are releasing an egg). One way is to measure the hormone surge of LH from your brain which triggers ovulation. This is a simple urine stick test which can be bought from any pharmacy. If the LH stick test is negative you may have polycystic ovaries so you will need a scan and may require treatment. Avoiding taking some painkillers around the time of ovulation can also help as it is thought that they can stop your ovaries releasing the egg.
#4 Get fit for conception. I believe that exercise, being active and being positive can all be important factors. Recent research from Australia looked at fertility and lifestyle - including factors such as stress - and how individualised lifestyle assessments and support may help people to conceive. Whatever approach you take - whether you are using IVF or not - I believe that taking care of your own health and welfare, your own mood and mindset, and taking time out for yourself is important.
#5 Don't leave it too late. Think about your family and medical history. Ask your mum about her age of menopause as this will be highly relevant to you. If it occurred before 45 years old you should think about going for a check of your egg reserve. I believe the best tests are an ovarian follicle count (called antral follicle count or AFC) which is done by ultrasound scan and an AMH blood test which taken together will give you the information you need.
The journey towards starting a family can be tough, but remember listen to your own body, talk to your doctor and share you experiences with your friends and families. If you're thinking about having a baby, start by thinking about my 5 basic steps. A "one-stop fertility test" might help to re-assure you or help you to choose the best option to have a baby.
Professor Dr. Geeta Nargund is a global pioneer of Natural and Mild IVF and Advanced Ultrasound Technology in Reproductive Medicine and the Medical Director of Create Health.