Planning for Pregnancy

Is That A New Word?  I've Never Heard It Before.

Preconception. It's a relatively new word and has been coined in connection with the period of time in a woman's life just prior to conception. Most often you'll hear the word used with another word - visit. So, if we put the two together, we come up with Preconception Visit. One of the most important times for prenatal care is before a women is even pregnant. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention emphasizes that by the time a woman gets pregnant, it may be too late to ensure that she and her baby are as healthy as possible.

Why See A Doctor Before Becoming Pregnant?

For example, if a woman is obese, there's a very good chance she's at risk for gestational diabetes which, in turn, puts her unborn baby at risk for severe birth defects. However, pregnancy is not the time to cut calories and lose weight. Or, if a woman is on strong medications for depression, the medications may create problems for both mother and child. The time to assess dosage or change medications is before conception, not after.

Prenatal Care is Booming - Thankfully

Thankfully, more than 85 percent of pregnant women do receive care after they become pregnant, which is way ahead of where things were just 20 years ago. Yet, progress in reducing the rates of infant mortality, low birth weights and premature births has slowed significantly, mainly due to the fact that women are not receiving counsel and care prior to conception. Preconception care is a lot more than a single visit to the doctor by a woman wanting to conceive - it also focuses attention on achieving optimal health for the mother.

Preconception Care Is Important for a Number of Reasons

Many women don't even have insurance until after they become pregnant and that can be very problematic should there be challenges in the pregnancy. Janis Biermann, vice president for education and health promotion at the March of Dimes says, "Unless a woman is actively planning a pregnancy, she really doesn't want to hear about pregnancy-related health messages." She went on to say that in 1995 and in 2005, surveys conducted by the March of dimes found that less than a quarter of women said they had talked with a doctor or nurse about the possibility of getting pregnant before actually conceiving.

Yet, Ms. Biermann notes, many health care professionals who provide prenatal care won't see women until they're at least eight weeks pregnant - too late to begin taking folic acid to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

The Real Issue

The real issue is education - educating women to seek the counsel of a health care provider before conception and educating health care providers as well. Ideally, preconception health advice will become a routine part of care for all women who could become pregnant.


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