In a survey of more than 750 women, pregnancy health charity Tommy’s found that the majority of women put a lot of thought and planning into a summer holiday. When it comes to trying for a baby, however, most of us aren’t aware there is anything to do other than stopping contraception.
A campaign to launch Tommy’s new Planning for Pregnancy digital tool found that 67 per cent of women plan for three or more months for a holiday, compared to 20 per cent planning for three or more months for a pregnancy. Just under 40 per cent of respondents said they stopped using contraception the same week they made the decision to have a baby, leaving little time to make any change that might affect the health of pregnancy and baby, such as taking folic acid, improving diet and achieving a healthy weight.
The survey also found a big difference between the perception of how long it takes to get pregnant compared to the reality. More than a quarter of women surveyed (25.3 per cent) became pregnant within one month compared to fewer than 5 per cent expecting this to happen.
Tommy’s, in partnership with PHE, RCOG and UCL, has developed a Planning for Pregnancy digital tool and a national #AreYouReady campaign to drive awareness of the importance of pre-conception health, and to support women with information and resources. The tool brings women through a questionnaire and then uses the answers to provide tailored information to women on what they can do before pregnancy to have a healthy pregnancy and baby. It also provides supportive email follow-up with tips and advice.
The campaign is raising awareness of the importance of planning for pregnancy as a factor in having a safe and healthy pregnancy following the recent Lancet Series on the importance of diet and lifestyle of both parents before conception. This showed that there is a population-wide knowledge gap about changes in lifestyle that could improve the safety of pregnancy for mother and baby the future health of the child.
Parents’ weight, diet and health before conception can have profound implications for the safety of the pregnancy, and the growth, development and long-term health of their children.
- Being overweight during pregnancy increases the risk of potentially dangerous pregnancy conditions, such as pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes
- Having a BMI over 30 means women may have less choices on where to give birth as they are more likely to need an instrumental delivery (ventouse or forceps)
- Smoking in pregnancy causes up to 2,200 premature births, 5,000 miscarriages and 300 perinatal deaths per year
- Two thirds of maternal deaths happen in those with pre-existing physical or mental health problems
- Folic acid should ideally be taken two months before conception to build the level of the vitamin up in the body to give maximum protection. As 1 out of 3 women can get pregnant within a month, waiting until stopping contraception to take folic acid means that many are at risk of inadequate protection from neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Two women a week give birth to a baby affected by a neural tube defect that requires intensive lifelong medical care
Actions that would have a positive impact on the health of a pregnancy and future child if taken before stopping contraception would be:
- taking 400mcg of folic acid daily two months before stopping contraception
- quitting smoking
- maintaining or achieving a healthy weight (BMI)
- adopting healthier eating behaviours
- staying active or becoming physically active before pregnancy
- speaking to a GP if taking medication for a mental or physical condition.
Lead author of the Lancet Series and clinical advisor to the Planning for Pregnancy tool, Professor Judith Stephenson, UCL, said, ‘The preconception period is a critical time when parental health – including weight and diet – can influence the risk of future chronic disease in children, and we must support families to reduce this risk.’
As well as giving tailored information, support and resources on the topics above, the Planning for Pregnancy tool also gives helpful information about all topics relevant to conception, including fertility, cervical screening, STIs, vaccinations, mental wellbeing, smoking, drugs and alcohol.
Tommy’s Chief Executive Jane Brewin said: “Our goal is to prevent avoidable pregnancy loss and improve the safety of the mother and baby during pregnancy. We know that lack of folic acid, smoking, inadequate nutrition, lack of physical activity and having a high BMI are all things that contribute to negative pregnancy outcomes, and it’s almost too late to tackle these after conception. Once women and their partners are pregnant they get a wide range of information from all sorts of sources, but in the pre-conception period, when they are not talking to health professionals about their intentions, it’s much harder to make sure they are informed about things they can do to reduce their risks. This tool has been created to address that gap in information. This is not about guilt or blame, it simply provides the information and support to allow women to make informed decisions.”
Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “Nutrition and lifestyle in the preconception period is crucial to having a good pregnancy and birth and we are delighted to be partnering with Tommy’s and UCL on this campaign to deliver tailored advice for women on the key steps they can take before getting pregnant to decrease the risk of complications during pregnancy. In the UK, the high prevalence of obesity means that 1 in 4 pregnant women are overweight or obese. Diet, weight and the body’s metabolism prior to conception impacts on the chances of conceiving naturally, having a good pregnancy and delivery, as well as affecting the health of children in their later life. Focussing on the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and weight prior to conception will not only improve the health of individuals, but also the health and quality of life of future generations.”
Professor Viv Bennett, Chief Nurse and director of maternity and early years at Public Health England, said: “Good preconception health – how women are in the weeks, months and years leading up to pregnancy – plays a crucial role in the health of women and their babies and on into childhood. We need to provide clear information and support women who want to have a family in the future to start making positive changes to improve their health now – in advance of becoming pregnant, to help give every child the best start in life.”