Preconception health is vital for all women

A new campaign launched Valentine’s Day 2013 is stressing the importance of preconception health for every young woman, not just those who are planning a pregnancy.

The “Show Your Love” campaign, developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Preconception Health Consumer Workgroup, is targeting two primary audiences: women ages 18-44 who are planning a pregnancy, and women in the same age group who are not planning to become pregnant.

The goal is to ensure that every woman who hopes to become a mother one day understands the importance of preconception health, according to Coleen Boyle, PhD, MSHyg, the director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. “By taking steps to improve her health before pregnancy, a woman will be her very best self, and her family will thank her for it, says Boyle. “And for those women who don’t want to start a family, our message is that she should be healthy and love and take care of herself — for her, so she can achieve the goals and dreams she has for herself.”

Preconception health is the time in a woman’s health before pregnancy. By improving her health before becoming pregnant, a woman can be better prepared for pregnancy and be as healthy as possible during and after pregnancy, say CDC experts. These health improvement steps include such actions as eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and addressing chronic health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

There is increasing evidence that improving women’s health before pregnancy is important for healthy mothers and babies.1 In addressing preconception health, public health officials aim to provide health promotion and education, screen for diseases, and deliver medical care to women of childbearing age to improve their health and to address factors that might affect future pregnancies.2

Why is it so important to stress preconception health to women who are not planning a pregnancy? A woman who does not plan to get pregnant might not manage her chronic disease well or avoid environmental exposures, such as toxic chemicals, note CDC officials.

The New York City-based Guttmacher Institute estimates that there are 62 million women in the United States of childbearing age; 43 million are sexually active, but do not want to become pregnant.3 Although many of these women use effective contraception or are otherwise unable to conceive, there also are women who do not use contraception correctly and consistently. It is estimated that 49% of pregnancies in the United States are unintended.4 Women who experience unplanned pregnancies might not be in their best health or are engaged in behaviors that could harm them and/or the fetus.

Two groups targeted

In the new campaign, focus is placed on two sets of women: “currently planning,” those who want to get pregnant in the next year or so and those “not currently planning,” who are those women who do not want to get pregnant within the next year or so, those who have children already and do not want more, and those who are unable to get pregnant.

In a statement during the campaign kickoff, Sarah Verbiest, DrPH, MSW, MPH, said, “While most women know that improving their health once they become pregnant is important, many women don’t know that improving their health before pregnancy — even long before it’s a consideration — is also important.” Verbiest is executive director at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Maternal and Infant Health and CDC senior advisor to the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative.

Research conducted by the Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative indicates that separate products, messages, and communication strategies are important to reach women who are planning a pregnancy, as well as for those who are not. Online access to these resources is available at www.cdc.gov/showyourlove.

Preconception health behaviors to emphasize to women, which are part of the CDC campaign, include:

• Plan pregnancies.

• Eat healthy foods.

• Be active.

• Take 400 mcg of folic acid daily.,

• Protect against sexually transmitted infections.

• Protect from other infections.

• Avoid harmful chemicals and toxins.

• Update vaccinations.

• Manage and reduce stress and get mentally healthy.

• Learn about your family’s health history.

Be sure to download free campaign materials from www.cdc.gov/showyourlove, such as posters, checklists, and public service announcements. Use the free e-cards from the website to send messages to patients to remind them about the importance of preconception care.

References

1. Wahabi HA, Alzeidan RA, Bawazeer GA, et al. Preconception care for diabetic women for improving maternal and fetal outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth 2010; 10(63):1-14.

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preconception care and health care. Accessed at http://1.usa.gov/JDzMIe.

3. Guttmacher Institute. Contraceptive use in the United States. Accessed at http://bit.ly/2Bzdq6.

4. Finer LB, Zolna MR. Unintended pregnancy in the United States: incidence and disparities, 2006. Contraception 2011; 84(5):478-485.