Do I Really Need Preconception Care?
Despite major advancements in medicine, too many babies born in the U.S. come into this world with birth defects that might have been prevented. On an annual basis, 31% of all pregnant women suffer complications, 12% of all newborns are the products of early delivery, 8% are born with low birth weights, and 3% are afflicted with serious birth defects.
Despite these statistics, women in their childbearing years engage in lifestyle activities that are known to promote poor pregnancy outcomes. For example, 10% of pregnant women drink alcohol and 11% of them smoke cigarettes. That's bad enough, but there's more: 3% take medications—OTC or otherwise—that have a known link to birth defects, 4% have medical issues that can have dire effects on a pregnancy if left unmanaged (such as diabetes), 31% are overweight or obese, and 69% aren't taking folic acid, that miracle vitamin that can prevent neural tube defects in infants.
These unhealthy activities pose extreme risks to pregnancy, but making lifestyle changes and obtaining good medical care can turn things around from potential tragedy to successful pregnancy outcome. Of course, those changes have to come in time, before irrevocable damage is caused. That is where preconception care comes in.
Most U.S. women only start receiving prenatal care from the 11th-12th week of gestation. What they don't realize is that the most dangerous point in the development of a fetus is from the 4th-10th week after conception. This is the time when irreversible birth defects can happen. Yet, at this point in their pregnancies, most women don't even realize that conception has taken place.
It is for this reason that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urge all women to have preconception care. Through preconception care and counseling, women learn how to avoid behaviors that could damage a potential fetus before they become pregnant. The CDC feels that preconception care is a critical topic in trying to address the ways in which we might improve the health of our nation.
In an effort to bring preconception care into our regular health care vocabulary, an initiative known as Healthy People 2000 aims at raising the number of primary care physicians qualified to offer preconception care. Today, only one in every four health care providers serves this role for their female patients. The Healthy People 2000 initiative hopes to bring this number up to 60%.
Right now, the idea of preconception care is still in its infancy. It is believed that once it becomes a part of standard health care, we'll see fewer babies with birth defects. But most doctors don't offer this service and most insurers won't cover it, either. The CDC hopes to change this state of affairs.