Pregnancy
20 Feb 2020

From conception all the way through to birth, you’re navigating the new and exciting territory of starting a family.

But, as with many new experiences, you may have a range of questions.

If you’re thinking about conceiving, you may be wondering what are the common factors that may affect fertility? What is ovulation? What role does men’s reproductive health play? What are the early signs of pregnancy? And, how will I know my due date?

When it comes to preconception and pregnancy, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Here are some handy links to what’s covered on this page:

What Is Conception?

While trying for a baby, you may have heard the word ‘conception’ thrown around. It’s the magical moment that a woman’s mature egg is fertilised by sperm. This creates an embryo which may then grow into a baby (1).

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How Long Will It Take Me To Conceive?

When it comes to how long it will take you to fall pregnant, it’s important to keep in mind that every person is different.

Some couples may take longer to conceive than others due to a range of factors, including the female’s menstrual cycle and the number of times per week a couple is engaging in intercourse.

Health professionals qualify infertility as 12 months of active trying (or six months if you’re over 35 years old) without success (2). But remember, infertility must be determined by a health professional. So, if you have any concerns about your fertility, talk to your doctor.

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What Factors May Affect Fertility And Tips For Supporting Conception

If you are planning to become pregnant, your first port of call should be a visit to your health professional for a pre-conception check-up. They may advise you on a number of factors that may affect your chances of conceiving. During your pre-conception check-up, you may also like to ask your doctor about the following common factors.

Timing

When you have intercourse with your partner may influence your likelihood of becoming pregnant.

Conception may occur when intercourse takes place during the five days before a woman ovulates or on the day of ovulation (3).

Pregnancy is technically only possible if you have intercourse during this time period (1), but the most fertile time may be the three days leading up to and including ovulation (1).

It seems simple enough, but it’s worth noting that it may be difficult to determine exactly when this period is due to fluctuations in a woman’s menstrual cycle from month to month. Learn more about calculating when you’re ovulating.

If you would like to learn more about the role of ovulation in conception, talk to your health professional.

Age – Women

The age of both partners may play a role in the probability of a pregnancy in different ways. Women are born with all of the eggs that they’ll ever produce. As a woman ages, so do her eggs, reducing in number and quality over time.

Generally, women are at their most fertile during their early twenties (4).

It’s estimated that their chances of conceiving may begin to decline once they reach about 32-years-old (3).

Age – Men

The impact of the father’s age is less dramatic but may also have an effect. Unlike a woman’s eggs, a man’s sperm is produced by the millions every day. However, younger men generally have healthier sperm compared to those over the age of 40. This has to do with sperm quality, which may decline with age.

A man over the age of 35-years-old is considered to be of ‘advanced paternal age’, a factor that’s been shown to negatively impact sperm quality and motility (4,5).

Preconception Health

There’s a reason it’s commonly referred to as the ‘miracle of life’. Becoming pregnant is a complex process that involves many different factors, all of which need to line up just right. Although not all of these are within our control, there are some lifestyle factors that may affect your chances of falling pregnant.

Just as the age of both partners influences conception, so does the preconception health of both the mother and father, including the following considerations.

Weight

The weight of both partners may impact their ability to conceive a child. By maintaining a healthy weight, both partners may improve their chances of having a baby.

Variances in weight (such as being overweight or underweight) may influence a woman’s ovulation and impact her ability to conceive (3).

For males, obesity may also impact fertility (3). Maintaining a healthy weight is one factor that helps their bodies to produce healthy sperm.

The sperm production cycle generally takes between 74 and 120 days. So, by reaching a healthier weight approximately 3-4 months before conception, a man may improve his sperm health and therefore improve the couple’s chances of falling pregnant (6).

Diet And Exercise

Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet and getting regular exercise is important for supporting general health and wellbeing. It may therefore also be useful in supporting a couple’s reproductive health and fertility.

Eating a nutritious, healthy diet and exercising regularly may help you to maintain a healthy weight and improve your chances of conception.

A healthy diet that’s full of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, meats and legumes, may help ensure both partners consume adequate amounts of the essential nutrients that support preconception health (7,8,9).

Other Factors

Other healthy lifestyle choices both partners should consider when trying for a baby include:

  • Reducing alcohol consumption
  • Decreasing smoking
  • Limiting caffeine intake
  • Engaging in antenatal care with a suitably qualified health professional

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Tips For Supporting Conception:

  • For women, tracking your menstrual cycle may help you identify when you are ovulating (3).
  • Have unprotected intercourse during the three days leading up to and including ovulation for the best chance of conceiving (3).
  • Ensure you and your partner maintain a healthy lifestyle (3), including eating a balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables and lean meats (3).
  • Talk to your health professional about which vitamins and minerals may help to support you and your partner’s preconception health.

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What Is Ovulation And The ‘Fertile Window’?

Put simply, ovulation is one of the stages of a woman’s menstrual cycle. It occurs each month when an egg is released from her ovary and moves down the fallopian tube, where it may be fertilised by sperm (1). Ovulation plays an important role in conception as it’s when a woman is most fertile.

The five days before a woman ovulates and the day of ovulation is known as ‘the fertile window’.

This window differs from woman to woman and may be tricky to calculate, as it depends on the length of the individual’s menstrual cycle (3).

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How To Know When You’re Ovulating

Knowing when you’re ovulating may help you to plan intercourse during your fertile window. Women ovulate 14 days before the first day of their period (1), so if you know the average length of your menstrual cycle you might be able to figure out when you are ovulating.

These Tips May Help You Estimate When You Ovulate:

  • Observe changes in your normal vaginal discharge, which may become clear and slippery during ovulation (3).
  • Track your menstrual cycle using a chart, diary or period-tracker smartphone app such as Clue (1).

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What About Men’s Reproductive Health?

When it comes to conceiving, it takes two. Becoming pregnant is a complex process and a couple’s ability to conceive relies on the healthy functioning of both partners’ reproductive systems.

After all, they each make up 50% of the baby-making equation (10).

For the male partner, this includes the quality and quantity of their sperm (11), which spans sperm production and health as well as the sperm’s ability to move and swim. Each of these factors may be affected by a number of influences (11), including age, weight and preconception health.

If you have any concerns about your male partner’s reproductive health, talk to your health professional.

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What Are The Symptoms Of Pregnancy?

The best way to know if you’re pregnant is to talk to a suitably qualified health professional. Your local pharmacist may sell over-the-counter pregnancy tests. If you receive a positive or unclear result, visit your GP.

Early Signs Of Pregnancy

If you’re trying for a baby, you may be curious about any early signs to look out for or indicators that you’re pregnant.

The symptoms of pregnancy vary from woman to woman and the only definitive way to determine whether your not you are with child is a visit to your doctor.

However, there are some early signs of pregnancy that you may experience, including:

  • Missing your menstrual period (12).
  • Breast tenderness (12).
  • Morning sickness (12).
  • Altered sense of taste and smell (12).
  • Fatigue (12).
  • Cravings for certain foods and distaste for others (13).

If you have any concerns about your health, or believe you may be pregnant, talk to your doctor.

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Common Pregnancy Conditions And How To Manage Them

As your baby grows inside you, you may experience an array of common pregnancy conditions from food cravings to morning sickness. If you have any concerns about any of the following conditions, talk to a suitably qualified health professional.

Morning Sickness

Morning sickness is one of the most common pregnancy conditions, affecting as many as 80% of pregnant women (14).

Despite it’s name, morning sickness can occur at all times of the day – morning, afternoon and night (14). You may also experience morning sickness without vomiting.

Morning sickness symptoms are most common during the first trimester (three months) of pregnancy but its severity and duration may vary from person to person (14).

Symptoms usually improve significantly by the end of these first three months, but some women may experience nausea and sickness all the way through their pregnancy (14). If your symptoms persist or worsen, talk to your health professional.

Tips For Managing Morning Sickness:

  • Eat plain crackers and sip weak tea or plain water before getting out of bed in the morning
  • Eat more frequent, smaller meals (instead of three large meals a day)
  • Listen to your hunger cues and eat when you feel like it rather than waiting for the next mealtime
  • Try not to skip meals or go long periods without eating
  • Ask someone else to prepare your meals if possible
  • Keep hydrated – smaller drinks or sucking on crushed ice and may help if you struggle with large drinks

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Indigestion And Heartburn

Indigestion is an uncomfortable feeling in the stomach and is commonly experienced after eating or drinking. Although it affects the general population, it’s thought that as many as 8 out of every 10 women experience indigestion during their pregnancy (15).

During the early stages of pregnancy, it may be caused by fluctuations in your hormone levels. In the second or third trimester, it might be caused by your baby pushing up against your stomach (15).

Heartburn is a common symptom of indigestion. Characterised as a burning feeling in the throat or chest, heartburn is caused by stomach acid travelling up the oesophagus (the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach) and irritating its lining (15).

Other Symptoms Of Indigestion Include:

  • Burping
  • Feeling heavy, bloated or full
  • Feeling sick and/or vomiting

Common Contributors To Indigestion And Heartburn In Pregnant Women Include:

  • Eating large meals
  • Eating high-fat food
  • Doing physical activity soon after eating
  • Bending over

Tips For Managing Indigestion And Heartburn:

  • Eat smaller meals, more often
  • Avoid eating just before bed
  • Avoid eating and drinking at the same time, which may make you feel more full
  • Try lying on your left side, which may be more comfortable
  • Sit up straight while eating

If you experience indigestion or heartburn while you’re pregnant, take a trip to see your doctor who will be able to assess to condition and may provide advice for managing your symptoms.

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Constipation

Pregnant women may experience fewer, firmer bowel movements that usual (16). This may be thanks to increased levels of the hormone progesterone, which relaxes the muscles in the bowel (16).

Increased fluid absorption from the bowel during pregnancy and increased pressure from the enlarged uterus and baby also contribute to changes in bowel movements (16).

If you experience firmer or fewer bowel movements while pregnant, it’s important to go to the toilet as soon as you feel the urge to empty your bowel. The longer you allow the stool to sit in the bowel, the more fluid is removed and the harder it becomes. This may make it more uncomfortable or difficult to pass later.

Tips For Managing Constipation Include:

  • Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and fibre
  • Hydrate frequently, aim to drink 2-3 litres of water every day
  • Engage in gentle exercise, such as walking
  • Go to the toilet as soon as you feel the need to empty your bowel

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Food Cravings

Alongside morning sickness, food cravings may be one of the most notorious pregnancy conditions. The cause of these cravings remains shrouded in medical mystery but it’s important to note that they don’t indicate that you aren’t eating enough of a certain food or nutrient (18).

If you crave certain foods during pregnancy, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that around 80% of pregnant women experience cravings (17).

But, although it’s a common condition, it’s important to try not to let cravings stop you from eating a healthy, balanced diet.

On the flip side, it’s estimated that between 50% and 80% of pregnant women experience food aversions (17). This may include wanting to avoid some foods they previously enjoyed and/or finding the smell of certain foods unbearable.

Tips For Managing Food Cravings:

  • Eat regular, healthy meals and choose foods with a low glycaemic index (GI) such as rolled oats, wholegrain bread and fresh fruit to help you feel satiated for longer (19)
  • Keep your cupboards full of healthy snacks (19)
  • Allow yourself to eat some of the foods you’re craving, as long as they don’t replace a healthy, balanced diet (18)

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What Is The First 1000 Days And Why Is It Important?

The 1000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her baby’s 2nd birthday is a unique window when the foundations for the child’s lifelong health are laid (20).

This period of time is your first opportunity to shape your child’s lifelong health.

In fact, experts suggest the first thousand days has the potential to influence a child’s ability to grow, learn and thrive (21,22).

These 1000 days span pregnancy, infancy and early childhood, a time when the health and wellbeing of mum and child are closely linked (20).

Pregnancy

During pregnancy, a baby relies on their mother’s diet as their one and only source of nutrition. A healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy supplies your little one with the essential nutrients they need to grow from just a handful of tiny cells into a little human ready to take on the world (23). This includes vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids (21).

Learn more about nutrition during pregnancy now!

Infancy And Early Childhood

Your child’s first two years of life are a period of rapid growth and development. One moment they’re a teeny bundle of joy in your arms, then you blink and suddenly they’re a walking and talking toddler!

Nutrition

During this time, nutrition is an influential factor in determining your child’s future health and development (24,25).

Nutrition plays an integral role in supporting the healthy development of both their little body and their brain. The latter is central to their ability to learn how to walk, talk, read and face new challenges (26,27).

Did you know that when your baby is born, their weight is just 5% of that of an adult but their brain is already at 25% of its adult size (28)? And, by their second birthday it reaches 80% of its adult size?

This growth relies on essential nutrients as building blocks to grow to its full potential (27).

In infancy, breastfeeding is the best way to support your baby’s growth, immune system and gut health. But, when this isn’t an option, high-quality baby formula is a good alternative. If you’re not sure about which formula to choose, talk to your health professional.

Once your little one is six-months-old and you begin introducing solid foods, it’s important to include a wide range of healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains and proteins.

Bonding

As well as being a formative period for their growth and development, your baby’s first thousand days also presents a special window of time for you to establish a lifelong bond.

Children’s developing brains are shaped by their early experiences. As such, a loving and supportive environment during their early years supports them to flourish (25). To help your child learn how to navigate the world around them, it’s important to ensure they feel safe, calm and protected.

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Stages Of Fetal Development: From Conception To Birth

Over the course of your pregnancy, your little one will undergo many stages of development as they grow from a tiny embryo into a fully grown infant.

Each passing month presents exciting new milestones, starting with the formation of a water-tight amniotic sack in the first month. By month two, your baby’s digestive tract and sensory organs begin to develop and during month three, their limbs, fingers and toes are fully formed.

Did you know that by your third month of pregnancy, your little one can open and close their fists (29)?

Entering the second trimester, your little one’s eyelids, eyelashes and eyebrows begin to take form and during the fifth month of pregnancy, they may start to move around as they develop muscles.

At the six month mark, your baby may start to open and close their eyes and in the seventh month they may begin responding to stimuli such as sound and light. With just two months to go, they may kick more frequently and by the final month of pregnancy, your child can blink, turn their head and grasp with their hands.

Click here for a month-by-month guide to your baby’s fetal development.

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How Do I Know My Due Date?

When it comes to calculating your baby’s due date, the projected day given by your health professional is only intended to serve as a guide (30).

The medical term for the due date is the ‘estimated date of confinement’ or EDC, but it’s estimated that only about 4% of women give birth on their EDC (31).

A pregnancy is considered full term if you give birth at any time between 37 to 42 weeks (31) and the average length of gestation is 40 weeks from the first day of your last menstrual period (30).

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Will My Baby Be A Boy Or A Girl?

The sex of your baby – alongside other inherited characteristics such as eye colour, height and blood type – are determined at the moment of conception, when the father’s sperm fertilises the mother’s egg (10).

So, despite the plethora of old wives tales on the internet, environmental factors during pregnancy don’t play a role in determining the sex of your child.

If you wish to, you may be able to learn the sex you’re your baby through an ultrasound at around the 18-20-week mark (32).

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Pregnancy Nutrition

The food that you consume while you’re pregnant not only supports your own health and wellbeing, but also nourishes your growing baby. Although your healthy diet nourishes your growing baby, there is no need to “eat for two”.

Instead, good pregnancy nutrition is more about the quality of the food being eaten than the quantity (33).

What to Eat: Nutrition During Pregnancy

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends that all Australians enjoy a wide variety of nutritious grain foods, vegetables, fruit, lean meats, and dairy products (or their alternatives) every day and limit their intake of saturated fats, added salt and added sugar.

However, pregnancy is a demanding time for the body and so it’s important to recognise that a woman’s nutritional needs increase during this time.

If you have any concerns about your nutrition during preconception, pregnancy or breastfeeding, it’s important to talk to your health professional, who can assess your individual needs and make recommendations accordingly. It’s also important to advise your doctor of any medicine taken during pregnancy, particularly the first trimester.

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Macronutrient Considerations In Pregnancy

  • Protein: During pregnancy, there is an increased demand for protein synthesis to support the growth of both maternal tissues and the developing fetus (34,35).
  • Fat: It’s important for women to consume quality essential fatty acids during pregnancy to support fetal growth and development. In particular, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid that contributes to your baby’s brain and retina development during pregnancy (36,37).

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Micronutrient Considerations In Pregnancy

  • Iron: During pregnancy, a mother’s blood volume increases to support both her own needs and those of her growing baby (34,35,38). As such, iron demand increases along with it. Iron is important for red blood cell production and carrying oxygen around the body.
  • Iodine: Iodine plays a role in a supporting your baby’s organ and tissue development during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It’s particularly important for their developing brain (34,35,38). It’s recommended that women intending to conceive take a supplement containing 150mcg of iodine during pre-pregnancy, pregnancy and breastfeeding to support their baby’s healthy brain development (39).
  • Calcium: As the most abundant mineral in the body, calcium is an important mineral for fetal development during pregnancy and infant development during breastfeeding (34,35).
  • Folate (folic acid): Supporting the proper development of fetal tissues, folate is an especially important nutrient during preconception, pregnancy and breastfeeding. When you’re trying for a baby, folic acid helps to support a women’s preconception health and prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Once you’re pregnant, it supports a healthy pregnancy and healthy placenta growth. Women planning to fall pregnant are recommended to begin taking a folate supplement containing no less than 0.5 mg of folic acid every day (14). This supplement should be taken for at least one month before conceiving and during the first three months of pregnancy (39).

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Foods To Avoid

You may have heard tales of the food cravings some women may experience while pregnant. However, there are some foods that women are recommended to avoid during this stage of life, as they may present health risks for the baby. This includes:

  • Some cheeses may contain a harmful type of bacteria called listera. As such, pregnant women should avoid mould-ripened soft cheeses such as brie, camembert, chevre and soft blue-veined cheeses (40). Hard cheeses such as cheddar, parmesan and stilton are considered okay to eat, as they don’t contain as much water as soft cheeses and therefore bacteria is less likely to grow in them (40). Other types of cheese may be suitable to consume, but check that they’re made from pasteurised milk (15).
  • All pâté may contain listeria, including those made from vegetables (40).
  • Under-cooked eggs may contain salmonella. Avoid cracked or dirty eggs and be sure to cook your eggs all the way through (40). This means ensuring both the whites and the yolks are solid before eating. You should also avoid foods that contain raw or under-cooked eggs, such as some mayonnaise (40).
  • Under-cooked meat may harbour harmful bacteria. If you wish to eat meat while pregnant, it’s important to cook it thoroughly. All meat and poultry should be cooked until there’s no trace of pink or blood, particularly minced meat products, sausages, poultry and pork (40).
  • Some fish are high in mercury. Limit your intake of high-mercury fish such as shark (flake), swordfish, broadbill and marlin to no more than once a fortnight (with no other fish consumed during this fortnight) (40). Orange roughy and catfish intake should also be restricted to no more than once a week (with no other fish consumed during this fortnight) (40).
  • Raw shellfish may contain harmful bugs and listeria. Cook shellfish before eating (40).
  • Some sushi poses a higher risk of listeria contamination. Opt for fully cooked and vegetarian varieties (40).
  • Cold, cured meats pose a small risk of harbouring listeria, including those from deli counters and sandwich bars and sliced, ready-to-eat meats (40).

If you have any concerns about your diet while you are pregnant, talk to your health professional.

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Additional Resources

At Brauer, we understand that the exciting new territory of starting a family may leave you with many questions. Of course, if you have any concerns about your preconception or pregnancy health, talk to a suitably qualified health professional.

These medicines may not be right for you. Read the label before purchase. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional.

If you found this article interesting, you may also find the following resources useful:

Your Fertility: For information about supporting your preconception health and healthy pregnancy

1,000 Days: For more information about your baby’s first thousand days

This Is How Omega-3 Supports Your Child From Pregnancy And Beyond

References

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