Planning for a baby can be overwhelming, especially when it’s your first pregnancy. There’s so much health information out there on fertility, IVF, private vs public hospitals, obstetrics, birthing options and genetic screening.
What’s the best advice I can give if you’re thinking about falling pregnant? Visit your GP for help navigating the journey ahead. Here are six reasons why:
- Getting a pre-pregnancy health check
- Understanding public vs private hospitals
- Having the right medications prescribed
- Exploring fertility factors
- Discovering options for singles and LGBTI families
- Learning about genetic carrier screening
Pre-Pregnancy Health Checks for Peace of Mind
Getting a thorough pre-pregnancy health check is a must.
Since pregnant women are considered to be one of the high-risk groups for hepatitis B, I recommend screening for this viral infection as well.
Any current medical conditions need to be carefully assessed and managed. Women with epilepsy, diabetes or asthma may need to have their treatment plans updated before trying to get pregnant.
Your GP can also refer you for prenatal genetic carrier screening. More on this below.
Public vs Private Hospitals
Your GP can give you the low-down on having a baby through the public and private health systems.
Public obstetric care is mostly covered by Medicare and is free or significantly cheaper than private care. The quality of public care in Australia is exceptional, especially in larger hospitals such as the Royal Women’s.
In the public system, midwives will look after you throughout your pregnancy and when you give birth. You’ll also likely receive occasional obstetrician visits. However, you can’t choose obstetricians and you may see a different one each time. Some people prefer more consistency in their antenatal care.
Shared care is also an option for healthy women and low-risk pregnancies. You get to see the same doctor or midwife throughout your pregnancy, along with some hospital visits. There are often out-of-pocket expenses.
Private obstetric care is usually accessed through private health insurance. You’ll need an obstetric level of cover for at least three months before falling pregnant.
There are out-of-pocket costs for an obstetrician and anaesthetist (if you use one). Depending on where you live, these costs can add up to more than $10,000.
The good news is that you choose your obstetrician and the hospital at which to deliver your baby. You’ll likely have a private room, be allowed to recover for longer in your room and possibly even enjoy postnatal care in a fancy hotel upon leaving the hospital.
Your obstetrician will care for you from 10 weeks pregnant until your baby is six weeks old. Public care is from 17 weeks until you’re discharged from hospital.
The public versus private decision can be a tricky one. A visit to your GP is golden in deciding which path bests suit your circumstances.
Medication Before and After Conceiving
As part of your pregnancy care, your GP will let you know which medications to take and those to avoid.
I recommend certain vitamins and supplements for pregnancy. In general, you’ll need folic acid, which reduces the risk of spina bifida, and iodine for brain and nervous system development. I usually advise you to start taking both around a month before falling pregnant.
Some medicines, herbal remedies and creams need to be stopped before falling pregnant. Obviously, the contraceptive pill is out. Less obvious is the fact that it can take 3-6 months for regular periods to return after stopping certain contraceptives.
You can’t take many acne treatments when pregnant. You also need to stay away from particular antibiotics, cold and flu remedies and over the counter medicines, such as ibuprofen.
Vitamin A and certain supplements aren’t generally considered safe in pregnancy either.
Fertility and Falling Pregnant
I often joke with patients about how we spend our youth trying to avoid falling pregnant, only to surprise our adult-self when it doesn’t happen the instant we’re ready.
In fact, conceiving can be quite hard for many people. According to Access Australia, one in six couples has difficulty conceiving.
For women, the likelihood of in utero fertilisation decreases as we age. There’s a 20% chance of a 30 year old returning a positive pregnancy test during each cycle. For a 40 year old, it drops to 5%.
Visiting your GP when trying for a baby is essential. They’ll conduct a full medical and family history examination to see if you have any conditions that may require extra fertility care.
Your GP will advise on making good lifestyle choices to increase your chances — stopping smoking, cutting out alcohol and drugs, getting regular exercise and managing your weight.
We’ll also debunk myths about the best time to have sex. The same goes for other far-fetched theories on falling pregnant, such as whether you should hug your knees after sex and avoid exercise (the answers are no and no).
Every day I’m asked how long it takes to get pregnant. Some couples take one cycle; others take a decade. I generally advise women to see a doctor for fertility advice following more than 12 months of regular unprotected sex – six months for women over 35 or if there’s a suspected fertility problem with either partner.
Depending on a range of factors, including your age and pre-existing medical conditions, your GP may refer you to a fertility specialist. Rest assured, not all referrals result in IVF. These specialists also offer other assistance, such as help with ovulation.
Singles and LGBTQI+ Family Options: IVF, IUI and More
If you’re not in a position to fall pregnant naturally, your GP can outline your options. Medical science is racing ahead at mind-blowing speeds in this area.
Same-sex couples have many available options to have a baby. I recently met with two lovely ladies who were considering IVF ‘egg sharing’. Egg sharing is where doctors use the genetic mother’s eggs to create an embryo. They then transfer the embryo to the birth mother’s uterus. What a delightful way to start a little family!
It’s also important to be aware of the many legal, financial and societal considerations. Again, your GP can point you the right direction to gather more information on these topics.
Genetic Carrier Screening
Advancements in reproductive medicine continually amaze me. Genetic carrier screening is no exception.
Genetic screening is a test to determine if either parent has an increased chance of having a baby with certain genetic conditions. Such conditions can reduce a child’s quality of life and lifespan. Examples include:
- Cystic fibrosis: 1 in 25 people are carriers / 1 in 2,500 people have the condition.
- Fragile X syndrome: 1 in 250 people are carriers / 1 in 4,000 people have the condition.
- Spinal muscular atrophy: 1 in 40 people are carriers / 1 in 6,000-10,000 people have the condition.
Almost all children born with these genetic conditions show no family history. Being the case, I’ll provide you with all the info you’ll need and leave the screening decision in your capable hands. There’s no wrong or right choice.
Doctors conduct genetic screening by sending off blood or saliva swabs for testing. Ideally, we do this before you fall pregnant. People who plan to have multiple children with the same fertile partner only need to be screened once.
In the event of a positive screening result, your options depend on whether you’re pregnant or not. Your GP can walk you through your choices.
It’s important to note that chromosomal conditions such as Down syndrome can’t be picked up by genetic carrier screening. Instead, we can conduct blood tests and ultrasound scans during your first trimester as part of your prenatal care.