Pre-conception Care refers to the care that a woman and her partner receive before getting pregnant. This form of care focuses on improving the couple’s health status. Additionally, it aids in the reduction of behaviours and external factors that pose a challenge to the mother-to-be and her unborn child.
Simply put, preconception care is taking care of one’s body before pregnancy. In so doing, women are able to find and address problems that may arise later, during or after the pregnancy. This has both short and long term benefits for both the mother and the community at large.
Why is Preconception Care Important?
Preconception care is important because it contributes to better maternal and child health. By providing this form of care to women and their partners, it is possible to reduce maternal and child mortality, reduce complications during pregnancy and delivery as well as prevent birth defects.
In addition to this, preconception care also helps prevent unplanned pregnancies. According to a report by WHO (2013), 4 out of every 10 women have an unplanned pregnancy. Consequently, key health interventions provided during the pre-conception stage will be lacking in 40% of the pregnancies.
Other positive health benefits of preconception care include:
– Prevention of neonatal infections
– Prevention of HIV/STI transmission from mother to child
– Reduction of stillbirths
What are some of the areas addressed during preconception care?
As mentioned above, preconception care provides an opportunity for a woman and her partner to improve their health before getting pregnant. To do this effectively, health care providers who offer this care will address different areas to provide a holistic approach.
Nutrition is an important component of preconception care and is designed to prime the body for pregnancy. Healthy nutrition is key to one’s health and wellness and is of importance for couples trying to conceive.
Preconception underweight or overweight has been shown to contribute significantly to complications for both mother and the unborn child during pregnancy (Dean, Lassi, Imam, & Bhutta, 2014). Other key aspects of nutrition during preconception care include the use of folic and iron supplements, nutritional counselling as well as the use of nutrient- and energy-dense foods.
It is impossible to talk about preconception care without making mention of infertility. During such a session, the health care provider will create awareness on fertility and infertility. This takes a two-pronged approach: to understand the causes, both preventable and unpreventable, as well as to reduce the stigma associated with infertility (WHO, 2013). For couples who have been trying to get pregnant for up to a year, screening and diagnosis follow. Counselling is recommended for women/ couples found to have unpreventable causes of infertility (Nekuei, Kazemi, & Hasanzadeh, 2014).
Preconception care for People Living with HIV (PLWH) seeks to promote planned pregnancies as well as prevent Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission. In addition, this form of care provides safe conception options for discordant couples, ultimately improving the health outcomes for both mother and child (Steiner, Dariotis, Anderson, & Finocchario-Kessler, 2013). Other benefits include partner testing, safe sex practices and family planning.
STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) may cause harm to the pregnant woman, her partner and the unborn child. For this reason, the health provider will ask the woman and her partner about STIs and offer to counsel on the possibility of infections that occur during and after pregnancy (Department of Health, 2013).
There is no health without mental health, and this is why mental health is a key part of preconception care. The preconception period provides a great opportunity to create interventions for women and/or their partners who live with a mental illness. During this period, the healthcare provider will assess psychosocial problems to establish whether the woman and/or her partner is at risk of mental illness (WHO, 2013).
Mood and anxiety disorders have been shown to be very prevalent for women in the childbearing age. Furthermore, recent studies have shown a direct relationship between poor mental health before pregnancy, and adverse maternal health outcomes. This has also been linked to several complications during and after pregnancy, further underpinning the need to get preconception care services (Whitney P. Witt, Cheng, Hampton, & Hagen, 2012).
Preconception care is useful in establishing the risk of genetic conditions been passed on to the child. The health care provider will typically check the woman and her partner’s family history so as to identify risk factors for genetic conditions. If need be, the couple will receive genetic counselling.
Other important areas to be covered during preconception care services include Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Drug and substance abuse, Environmental Health and Gender-Based Violence (GBV)
Who should get preconception care?
Preconception care is recommended for women and men who plan to get pregnant. Health care providers offer these services to ensure that couples are in their best health before conception.
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