Why Bother: Preconception Care
While medical knowledge has advanced, babies in the United States are still being born with all sorts of preventable problems. On an annual basis, 12% of all infants are born early, 8% come into this world with low birth weights, and up to 3% are born with major birth defects. Also, some 31% of all women experience complications during their pregnancies.
Women of childbearing age continue to indulge in behaviors that cause poor birth outcomes. For instance, 11% smoke while pregnant, and 10% drink alcohol. As for preconception care, some 69% of women in their fertile years neglect to take folic acid, 31% are overweight to the point of obesity, and 3% take OTC or prescription drugs that are known to cause birth defects. Another point to consider is that 4% of women of childbearing age have medical conditions that might have a negative impact on pregnancy if left unmanaged, such as diabetes. While all these factors represent potential minefields in pregnancy, lifestyle changes and proper medical treatment can make the difference between tragedy and a successful pregnancy and delivery.
What most women don't know is that while prenatal care is important, it comes too late to prevent a great number of avoidable issues. In the U.S., most women begin to receive prenatal care during the 11th or 12th week of pregnancy. However, the most vulnerable time for fetal development is during the 4th-10th week after conception and this is when most preventable birth defects occur. Most women don't even realize they have conceived during this time. Therefore, unless a woman begins to address the possible risk factors before conception, she cannot take steps to reduce the dangers posed to her baby's health and that of her own.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes that preconception care is a critical issue when addressing the way the nation's health might be improved. One initiative, Healthy People 2000, is aimed at improving the number of primary care physicians able to provide preconception care. As of now, only one in every four providers serves this role for the women in their practices. A major goal of Happy People 2000 is to increase this rate to 60% of all primary care physicians.
It is believed that were the concept of preconception care to become a part of our public consciousness, such care might fill in the gaping holes in maternal and child health care where current standards aren't working. However, health providers tend not to offer this service, nor will it be covered by most insurers. Meantime, most health consumers don't know enough to demand they be provided with preconception care.