Preparing for pregnancy helps minimise complications

By Dr Michelle Cooper

Published 20/02/2016 | 00:00

Dr Michelle Cooper. Photo Eye Focus
Dr Michelle Cooper. Photo Eye Focus

When planning to achieve pregnancy it is important to reduce risk the of harm to the baby, as well as lessening the likelihood of pregnancy-related complications.


Folic acid should ideally be taken for twelve weeks before achieving pregnancy, until at least the twelfth week of pregnancy. Folic acid taken before achieving pregnancy can reduce the risk of having a baby with spina bifida, as well as conditions such as cleft lip and palate, congenital heart disease and preterm delivery.


Vitamin D supplements are recommended for all pregnant women, breastfeeding women and breastfed babies as only a small amount of vitamin D is found in food.


It is highly recommended that pregnant women refrain from drinking alcohol when trying to conceive and when pregnant. Foetal alcohol syndrome, which can have serious physical and mental sequel, can develop in babies born to mothers who consume alcohol.

Tobacco contains chemicals which can pass to the baby and slow its growth. Smoking mothers harbour an increased risk of miscarriage, premature delivery and stillbirth. Children born to smoking mothers have a higher risk of ADHD, chest infections, asthma, ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome.

The effects of illicit substances are not fully known but it is strongly advised to stop taking drugs before achieving pregnancy.


Over-eating is not advised. The World Health Organisation recommends that women gain 10-14 kilograms during pregnancy. Overweight women are at increased risk of pregnancy related complications such as pre-eclampsia and stillbirth. They are also less likely to deliver naturally, often requiring caesarean sections.

Foods to avoid:

q Fish which contain high levels of mercury (Marlin, shark, swordfish). No more than four cans of medium sized tuna should be consumed per week.

q Caffeine should be limited to 200mg per day as it increases the risk of miscarriage as well as the risk of having a low birth weight baby. Coffee, tea, chocolate and cola as well as some energy drinks and cough and cold medications contain caffeine.

One mug of instant coffee roughly = 100mg caffeine. One mug of brewed coffee roughly = 140mg caffeine. One mug of tea roughly = 75 mg caffeine. One 50g plain chocolate bar roughly = 50mg caffeine whilst milk chocolate contains approximately half that of plain chocolate. One can of cola roughly = 40mg caffeine.

q The following foods are at risk of carrying listeria and should be avoided as they may cause miscarriage, stillbirth or infections in the baby after delivery:

- Undercooked meats including pre-cooked meats and pre-prepared meats, as well as undercooked eggs.

- Mould containing cheese and soft cheese such as brie, camembert and blue cheese.

- Patés.

- Raw fish and shellfish.

- Unpasteurised milk.


Toxoplasmosis is a bacterium commonly found in raw meat and sheep, lamb and cat faeces. It can cause serious harm to the unborn baby. To avoid it:

- Wash hands after handling raw meat, pets or animals.

- Avoid cleaning litter trays.

- Wear gloves when gardening.

- Avoid sheep, especially during lambing season.

- Wash salads and vegetables as dirt may have been contaminated by cat faeces.

Most pregnancies sail along smoothly without complications. It is important, however, to remain alert to potential dangers and to avoid any risks when considering achieving pregnancy until the safe arrival of your baby.

Wexford People

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