Preconception Health for Healthier Pregnancies & Babies

[subtitle]Did You Know That Half of All
Pregnancies are Unplanned?[/subtitle]

 

 
By Kristy Goldwire, MSW
Executive Director
Capital Area Healthy Start

That’s 1 out of 2; 5 out of every 10; or even 500 out of 1,000. No matter how you do the math, it still equates to 50 percent of all pregnancies are not being planned — and this holds true regardless of race, education, and income.

 
What this data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tells us is that not enough women are taking the necessary steps to prepare for a full term pregnancy, which is between 37 to 40 weeks. When pregnancies are not planned and the woman has not adequately prepared her body to carry a baby, it can sometimes lead to poor prenatal health for the mom. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of poor birth outcomes for the baby such as birth defects, premature births, low weight, or infant mortality.

 
As part of our responsibilities, we review infant deaths through our fetal and infant mortality review (FIMR) process. This year during our annual FIMR deliberations, we saw that 97 percent of the mothers had pre-existing medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, mental health disorders, etc; more than a quarter (28 percent) had a history of sexually transmitted disease; and mirroring the CDC’s statistic, we saw that 52 percent of the women said that it was an unplanned pregnancy. Sadly, we continue to see this year after year.

 
So, in response, the Coalition created a Preconception Health Education program last year with funding from the Community Human Services Partnership. The program goal is to encourage more women of child-bearing age to think about pregnancy before conceiving. Whether that is in six months or six years, now is the time to address and resolve (if possible) any health risks that could negatively affect a future pregnancy. Classes are offered to women and their partners with a focus on topics such as preventing pregnancy, planning a pregnancy, baby spacing, being physically active, reducing stress, eating healthy, and much more.

 

 

Unfortunately, due to funding cuts, this program will end on Sept. 30. As we work to revamp our program and make it accessible to the community again, here are a few tips to help women prepare for future pregnancies:

 
Get plenty of Folic Acid—This is a naturally occurring B vitamin that helps a baby’s brain development and should be taken before and during pregnancy. The best way to get enough is to take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid in it and maintain a healthy diet.

 
Engage in Some Type of Physical Activity—Physical activity is a great way to maintain your weight, lose weight, and enhance your overall body fitness. Whether it is walking or Crossfit, the goal is to get moving!

 
Maintain a HealthyWeight—Being overweight or obese can increase the risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, arthritis, and poor health status. This in turn can negatively affect pregnancy and birth outcomes. Speak with your doctor about steps to maintain a healthy weight.

 
Practice Safe Sex—Engaging in risky sexual behaviors can result in unplanned health consequences. Abstinence from vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse is the only 100% effective way to prevent HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy.

 
Take Care of Your Mouth—Research shows a direct link between the health of your mouth and the health of your body. Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, can lead to heart disease, diabetes, developing gestational diabetes while pregnant, and delivering premature, low-weight babies. Brush and floss your teeth twice daily, and be sure to visit your dentist regularly.

 
Avoid Smoking—Smoking is an addictive habit that increases your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, or cancer. For help to quit smoking, call Healthy Start at 850-606-8050.

 
There are so many ways for women, and their partners, to prepare for a child. Our job is to encourage healthy lifestyles so that we can see more healthy pregnancies and babies.