Trying to Conceive? Here's what you should know about pre-pregnancy diets

Trying to Conceive? Here's what you should know about pre-pregnancy diets

By Dr Maria Boulton

Happy New Year! The New Year always brings lots of resolutions, for example, to lose weight and/or exercise more. It is also the time when women start thinking about pregnancy. The first step is to conceive, in other words, to get pregnant. And a common question that my patients ask me is - when should you stop drinking alcohol and start eating like you are a pregnant?

Here is an excerpt from my book “Mum’s guide to..pregnancy” by Dr Maria Boulton (available through that answers that question and also discusses the accuracy of pregnancy tests.


When should you switch to a diet that is safer for the baby while you are trying to conceive?

You may wonder when you should begin behaving like you are pregnant during the pre-pregnancy period, that is, avoiding foods/medications/alcoholic beverages/recreational drugs that may harm the baby. The answer – make wise food choices and avoid drugs and alcohol while trying to conceive.

A cautionary note: most of us buy urine pregnancy detection tests from the pharmacy to confirm we are pregnant. These tests detect pregnancy hormone in a woman’s urine. They are more accurate if you use the first urine of the day. It is important to remember that they may not detect very early pregnancies. Some of the popular brands can detect pregnancies in some women from four days before their period is due. However, they are more likely to detect a pregnancy as the pregnancy progresses and the pregnancy hormone levels in the urine increase. For example, one brand gives a positive result in 98 percent of pregnant women if used one day before their period is due, compared to 55 percent if used four days before their period is due. Yes, you can be pregnant despite having a negative pregnancy test.

You may already be pregnant, but it may be too early for the test to detect it – a negative pregnancy test is not permission to take health risks. I advise my patients to repeat their pregnancy test a few days later if they have had a negative result and their period still hasn’t arrived. If in doubt, ask for a blood test as they can detect pregnancies a few days earlier than do it at home urine pregnancy tests, and are more accurate. This can be done at any pathology laboratory: you just need a referral form from your doctor. If you live in an Australian city or in a large regional centre the result will be available on the next business day. 

It is important to remember that most things that you eat, drink, inject, inhale and smoke can cross the placenta and affect the baby’s growth and development. Some of the effects can be profound and permanent. So yes, in that respect you are “eating for two”.  In the next chapter, you will find information regarding healthy eating in pregnancy and what foods to avoid.  

Alcohol and recreational drugs cross the placenta so the baby is also exposed to their harmful effects, thus it is not safe to continue them into the pregnancy, not even in small quantities. Exposure to these substances in pregnancy can lead to problems such as miscarriage and low birth weight; intellectual, learning and developmental problems; and congenital abnormalities such as heart defects and distinctive facial features in the baby. If you think you may have a problem with alcohol and/or recreational drugs, or need help stopping them, please ask for help, either from your GP or your state government’s ‘alcohol, tobacco and other drugs’ health service. Remember that you only get one go at this pregnancy roller coaster. 



We are talking about Pregnancy Cravings on our Forum! Join the conversation. 

Dr Maria Boulton

Dr Maria Renee Boulton, GP, wife and mother of 2, has enjoyed working in general practice for 12 years. 

Dr Maria has always enjoyed working with mothers, babies and children, all the more so since starting her own family. Dr Maria works in general practice at Family Doctors Plus in Windsor, Brisbane, Australia.

She has recently published her first book “Mum’s Guide to Pregnancy”- a must have for women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy. You can contact Dr Maria at or visit her websites or You can follow her on Facebook on

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