Health Hub

Preparing to Conceive

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Preparing to Conceive

In this Health Hub article, we explore how to give yourself the best chance of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy.


Whether planning a pregnancy or preparing to conceive, it is important to consider the steps that will ensure the best chance of becoming pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy. Here we present advice on how to give yourself the best chance of conceiving.

Facts & Figures

  • In Ireland, the average age of women giving birth is 32.1 years.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 couples in Ireland will have difficulty becoming pregnant.
  • The majority of couples (84 in 100) will become pregnant within a year of actively trying.

Understanding Conception

The menstrual cycle begins (Day 1) from the first day of a woman's period. Sometime after this, she will ovulate (release an egg) and then another menstrual cycle will begin approximately 12-14 days after that. The average cycle is 28 days. However this can vary between women and for this reason, the use of fertility/ovulation charts and apps can be helpful while planning.

A woman is most likely to become pregnant if she has sex within a day or so of ovulation. An egg will only survive for around 12-24 hours after it has been released and therefore fertilisation must occur in this short time frame in order for the woman to become pregnant.  Sperm can live for up to 7 days thus if the woman has had sex in the days before ovulation there is an equally high chance that she will become pregnant.

Our pharmacists have made a fertility/ovulation chart for you to download and print.


What Causes a Heart Attack?

Visit your GP:

After you have made the decision to become pregnant it is important to visit your GP for a pre-pregnancy check-up. This will give your GP an opportunity to do some blood tests which will give them a baseline of your health before pregnancy. It will also allow them to identify any hormones or vitamin levels which may need to be monitored or supplemented during your pregnancy.
Visiting your GP prior to conceiving also gives you a chance to discuss any current medication you are taking or any concerns you may have about your family history.


Diet - maintaining a balanced diet is key while planning and during pregnancy. Foods that are rich in calcium, iron, and folate, such as dairy foods, fruit, and vegetables, cereals, whole grain breads, beans and lentils are essential.

Supplements to take when trying to conceive - All women should take folic acid, 400mcg daily, to lower the risk of neural tube defects. Vitamin D, 400 IU daily, is also essential for normal bone growth and development of the baby. Studies have shown that women who are deficient in Vitamin D during pregnancy are more likely to have lower weight babies leading to poor bone development in early childhood. Both folic acid and vitamin D are available in Ireland without a prescription and should be taken up to three months before becoming pregnant and throughout pregnancy.

Weight – having a normal body mass index between 20 and 25 is ideal when trying to conceive. Being over or underweight can result in irregular ovulation patterns which can make it more difficult to conceive. A reduction of 5% body weight can dramatically improve fertility in both men and women.

Exercise – regular moderate exercise for an average of 30 minutes, three times a week can lower the risk of problems during pregnancy and birth. Exercising excessively, however, can, in fact, decrease fertility in both men and women.

Caffeine – research has shown a link between high caffeine consumption and an increase in miscarriages and lower birth weight. It is advised that both men and women prior to conception reduce their caffeine intake to 200mg or 2 cups of coffee per day. Bear in mind that caffeine is found in tea, some soft drinks and also some over the counter medication.

Alcohol - consumption of alcohol around the time of conception is linked to a number of birth defects and in some cases miscarriage. Heavy alcohol consumption in men can reduce sperm production making it more difficult to conceive. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption prior to conception or during pregnancy.

Smoking – can disrupt regular ovulation in women and is also linked to an increased risk of miscarriage and premature birth. There is no safe level of smoking prior to conception or during pregnancy.

Advice From The Pharmacist

  • Do not stop long-term medication (e.g. eltroxin, antidepressant, medication used to treat asthma etc.) abruptly before becoming pregnant or if you discover that you are pregnant. Stopping these medications may impact on your ability to become pregnant or may have a negative impact on the baby if you are already pregnant.
  • Giving up smoking and drinking can be difficult, especially with the added stress of planning a pregnancy. Speak to your pharmacist or your GP about the available supports in your local area.
  • Take 400mcg of folic acid and 400 IU of vitamin D daily. Both should be taken up to three months before becoming pregnant and throughout pregnancy.

Supports Available In Ireland