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Preconception Health Promotion : The Foundation for a Healthier Tomorrow. Merry-K. Moos, RN, FNP ( retired), MPH, FAAN 3.0 contact hours. Note: To use the links in this module it must be in Slide Show view. See slide 4 for instructions. Accreditation.

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Preconception Health Promotion:The Foundation for a Healthier Tomorrow

Merry-K. Moos, RN, FNP (retired), MPH, FAAN

3.0 contact hours

Note: To use the links in this module it must be in Slide Show view. See slide 4 for instructions.


March of Dimes Foundation is accredited as a provider of continuing nursing education by the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation.

The March of Dimes also is approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing, Provider #CEP11444.

3.0 contact hours are available for this activity through November 1, 2014. CNE credit may be extended past this date following content review and/or update.

Visit up-to-date information on all of our CNE activities.

author bio and disclosure
Author bio and disclosure

Merry-K. Moos, BSN, MPH, FAAN

Until her retirement, Merry-K. Moos was a professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and adjunct professor in both the Schools of Public Health and Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a researcher, author and clinician who is nationally and internationally recognized for her expertise in preconceptional and interconceptional health and health care. She and her colleague, Robert Cefalo, wrote the first book on preconceptional health in the United States in 1988; it, as well as her other related publications, have served as a platform for change in the delivery of reproductive health care in this country. Ms. Moos remains active in developing and promoting strategies to advance preconception health care in the United States and beyond.

Disclosure: Merry-K. Moos is Lead Nurse Planner for the March of Dimes Foundation; She has no financial, professional or personal relationships that could potentially bias the content of this module.

Navigation and links

Open the Slide Show view

The module must be in the Slide Show view for the navigation buttons and links to work. Depending on your computer settings and software, there are several ways to do this:

  • Click the small slide show button ( ) next to the zoom slider on the bottom right hand corner of the PowerPoint screen.
  • Press the F5 key.
  • Click Slide Show on the PowerPoint ribbon at the top of the page. Then click View Show or From Beginning.

Use the navigations buttons and links

  • Click the purple buttons at the bottom of each slide to move around within the module.
  • Click the links on the Contents page to:
  • See the Guidelines and References
  • Print the module (PDF)
  • Take the continuing education test
module purpose
This module is designed for registered nurses who interact with women of childbearing age before and after pregnancy and between pregnancies. It reviews the rationale for moving away from prenatal care as the principle approach to preventing poor pregnancy outcomes to an approach that encompasses a woman’s health before conception. The module examines the link between a woman’s health habits and risks and how they correspond to known risks for a pregnancy and neonate. The module includes evidence-based strategies for addressing key risks before pregnancy to help nurses provide meaningful preventive care throughout the life course of women and their offspring.Module purpose
module objectives
After studying this module, the nurse will be able to:

Explain the rationale and history of the preconception health movement

Identify preconception influences on women’s health and pregnancy outcomes and identify appropriate evidence-based clinical care recommendations

Describe a framework for incorporating preconception care into clinical practice

Module objectives
objective 1

Objective 1:

Explain the rationale and history of the preconception health movement

preconception vocabulary
Preconception vocabulary
  • Preconception: A woman’s (or man’s) health status and risks before a first pregnancy and subsequent pregnancies. Often used as a synonym for interconception (Moos, 2006; Moos et al., 2010).
  • Interconception: The period between the end of one pregnancy and the conception of the next pregnancy. The interconception period must be treated as an open-ended timeframe because it only can be accurately defined after the next conception has occurred (Moos et al., 2010).
  • Preconception health promotion: Includes, but is not limited to, clinical care, because many influences interact to support or undermine high levels of wellness in individuals of childbearing age. Influences include family and community relationships, environmental exposures in the workplace and public policies (Moos et al., 2010).
  • Periconception: The maternal health status and risks around the time of conception through the period of organogenesis (Moos, 2006).
rationale for preconception health promotion
Rationale for preconception health promotion

Historically, prenatal care has been the dominant approach to preventing poor pregnancy outcomes in the United States. Over the last 30 years, limitations of this approach have been identified:

  • Important influences on pregnancy outcomes predate conception (Table 1).
  • Prenatal care starts too late to offer primary prevention for many poor outcomes.
  • Prenatal care often starts too late and offers too little to eliminate risks associated with the life circumstances of socially disadvantaged populations. There is no evidence that a medical model directed at a 6- to 8-month interval in a woman’s life can erase years of social, economicand emotional distress and hardship (Dillard, 2004).
rationale for preconception health promotion1
Rationale for preconception health promotion
  • Some poor pregnancy outcomes, including spontaneous abortions and congenital anomalies (birth defects), have already occurred before the first prenatal visit.
    • The period of organogenesis (when organs are formed) begins just 3 days after the first missed menstrual period.
    • Organogenesis is complete around the 56th day after conception: 8 weeks by conception date and 10 weeks by menstrual date.
    • Most women are not aware they are pregnant by 3 days after the first missed menses. Many pregnant women do not start prenatal care until organogenesis is complete.
    • Birth defects account for 20 percent of all infant deaths in the United States, making them the leading cause of infant mortality (March of Dimes, 2011d). Beyond death, birth defects are a major contributor to lifelong disabilities. Approximately 3 percent of all infants born each year have a birth defect.
cdc select panel on preconception care and health care
CDC Select Panel on Preconception Care and Health Care

The CDC Select Panel (2006) put forth four goals (Table 3), 10 recommendations and more than 50 action steps for the preconception initiative. It also made recommendations relevant to nurses’ involvement in preconception health services (Table 4).

cdc select panel on preconception care and health care1
CDC Select Panel on Preconception Care and Health Care

A complete list of recommendations and action steps is available at under the tab “Key Articles and Guidance.”

cdc select panel on preconception care and health care2
CDC Select Panel on Preconception Care and Health Care
  • Recognizing that multiple pathways are needed to change longstanding but inadequate approaches to prevention, the CDC Select Panel created five multidisciplinary workgroups (Table 5). The workgroups include nurses in leadership and membership roles who represent nursing organizations, including the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) and national organizations committed to the work of nurses, like the March of Dimes.
  • The Clinical Workgroup (CWG), likely to be of particular interest to nurses, has undertaken several important initiatives (Table 6).
emerging paradigms for preventive health care
Emerging paradigms for preventive health care

Complementing and, in part, stimulated by the national preconception movement, are two emerging paradigms for reframing opportunities for prevention for women and their offspring:

  • Women’s preventive health framework
  • The life course framework
  • Something to think about…

How early in the life cycle do determinants of poor health and poor pregnancy outcomes begin to exercise their influences?

women s preventive health framework overview
Women’s preventive health framework: Overview
  • Delivery of women’s health care services in the United States relies on a series of relatively distinct service silos. These silos separate a woman’s pregnancy-related care from her nonperinatal care. The non-perinatal care is further compartmentalized into reproductive and non-reproductive foci (Moos, 2009).
  • It is common, for example, for the contraception needs of a woman with type 2 diabetes mellitusnot to be acknowledged by her endocrinologist; her glycemic control issues to be overlooked by her family planning provider; and her risks for poor pregnancy outcomes to be ignored until her first and subsequent prenatal visits.
  • The women’s preventive health framework is built upon appreciation that the major determinants of poor health status in women are important risk factors for poor pregnancy outcomes (Table 7).
  • “The nation’s approach to the clinical care ofwomen is fragmented, inefficient, and, too often, incomplete and ineffective.”— Moos, 2009, p.427
women s preventive health care strategies
Women’s preventive health care strategies
  • Because healthy women have healthier pregnancies, preventive care has the potential to result in healthier women, healthier pregnancies and healthier pregnancy outcomes (Moos, 2009).
  • Nurses and others in the health care field must shift their paradigm from a singular focus on the pregnant woman and fetus to a wider frame that encompasses the total health needs of the adolescent, woman and mother (Verbiest & Holliday, 2009).
  • “Opportunistic” approach to prevention
    • Impacting a woman’s health status across her life-span benefits from incorporating health promotion and disease prevention strategies into every health care encounter (Moos, 2006; Moos, 2009).
    • California’s Every Woman, Every Time campaign(Cullum, 2003) became a model for encouraging opportunistic care in other states.
  • “If we hope to achieve better pregnancy outcomes, we must change the way we provide maternal and child health (MCH) services and add the ‘W’oman into MCH.”
  • — Atrash et al., 2008, p.S264
the life course framework overview
The life course framework: Overview
  • Traditionally, birth outcomes and disparities in outcomes have been explained by what happens during pregnancy (e.g., preterm labor, infections); harmful influences during pregnancy (e.g., cigarette smoking, food insecurity); and differing exposures to protective factors (e.g., social support, utilization of prenatal care).
  • Lu & Halfon (2003) propose the life course framework. This suggests:
    • Protective and harmful influences across the lifespan are key determinants of an individual’s health status.
      • Imbalances in these influences across different population groups are critical to understanding and addressing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities.
      • Influences include, but are not limited to, physical, social, psychological and economic variables.
    • Protective and harmful exposures are likely to have an intergenerational influence on health status so that the influences experienced by grandparents, for instance, may explain health challenges of the grandchildren.
the life course framework models
The life course framework: Models

Lu and Halfon (2003) summarize two models that explain the impact of the life course on women’s health and pregnancy outcomes:

  • Early programming model
    • Early life exposures and experiences during particularly sensitive periods of development (including in utero) encode the functions of organs or organ systems that will influence health status throughout an individual’s lifetime. This is sometimes referred to as the “womb to tomb” model.
    • David Barker (1990) suggests the relationship between fetal exposures and the lifelong likelihood of developing chronic disease in research on coronary heart disease; his work on fetal and infant origins of adult disease is known as the Barker Hypothesis.
  • Cumulative pathways model—Chronic accommodation to stress results in wear and tear on the body’s adaptive systems (often called allostatic load), affecting health status over the life course (Lu, 2010).
objective 2

Objective 2:

Identify preconception influences on women’s health and pregnancy outcomes and identify appropriate evidence-based clinical care recommendations

key preconception influences
Key preconception influences

ACOG (2005, 2007) identifies the following assessments as a basis for preconception care:

  • Family planning and pregnancy spacing (interpregnancy intervals [IPIs])
  • Family history
  • Genetic history
  • Medical, surgical, psychiatric and neurologic histories
  • Current medication exposures
  • Substance use
  • Domestic abuse and violence
  • Nutrition
  • Environmental and occupational exposures
  • Immunity and immunization status
  • OB/GYN history
  • Assessment of socioeconomic, educational and cultural status
    • Something to think about…
  • How can the nurse know what specific information and services to provide?
  • Principles of evidence-based care can help.
incorporating evidence based preconception care into practice
Incorporating evidence-based preconception care into practice
  • In December 2008, the CWG of the CDC Select Panel released recommendations for theClinical Content of Preconception Care (Jack & Atrash, 2008).
  • The procedure used by the CWG is similar to the steps used by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) (1996) in the development of its prevention recommendations.
  • The CWG procedure involved:
    • Conducting a literature review of more than 200 health topics related to preconception care
    • Assessing whether or not the composite research related to a topic suggests or proves there are benefits to addressing that topic before pregnancy
    • Assigning a specific recommendation to each topic based on the likely advantage to pregnancy outcomes if the topic is addressed before pregnancy
assigning recommendations based on the evidence
Assigning recommendations based on the evidence

Using the framework employed by the USPSTF to rate the evidence around a specific topic, the CWG assigned a letter grade to each of the 200 preconception clinical topics it reviewed. The grade helps providers determine the likely benefits of addressing a specific influence during the preconception period (Table 8).

quality of the research
Quality of the research
  • While specific clinical recommendations shouldbe the result of strong research designs, this is not always possible. For example, the most powerful experimental designs (randomized clinical control trials) often are inappropriate or unethical when determining the impact of an intervention on reproductive outcomes.
  • Using the USPSTF framework to assess the strength of the sciencebehind specific recommendations, the CWG assigned a grade to the total body of research for each of the 200 preconception influences. These grades helps clinicians appreciate the research foundations for specific recommendations (Table 9).
  • Something to think about…

Why might it be unethical to conduct a randomized trial involving pregnant women?

clinical emphases of preconception care
Clinical emphases of preconception care

Translating the CWG recommendations into clinical care can be divided into three main clinical emphases (Table 10). Nurses should consider the relevance of each emphasis for every woman at each encounter.

opportunities for nurses
Opportunities for nurses
  • The next several slides provide illustrations of incorporating selected preconception health topics into nursing care. Each illustration:
  • Builds upon one of the three clinical emphases
  • Presents background information on the topic’s significance to the health of the woman and, should the woman become pregnant, her pregnancy and future offspring
  • Includes the strength of the CWG’s recommendation and the quality of the research supporting it
  • More information on these and additional preconception topics is available at: (go to the “Key Articles and Guidance” tab).
providing protection nutrition overweight
Providing protection: Nutrition/Overweight

Statement of the problem

  • In 2009, 52.9 percent of women age 18 to 44 in the United States were identified as overweight (having a body mass index [BMI] >25) (Reinold et al., 2011). Many of these women proceed to obesity during and beyond their reproductive years.
  • In 2010, 25.1 percent of women age 18 to 44 in the United States had a BMI of at least 30, which is the threshold for defining obesity (March of Dimes, 2011c).
  • Obesity affects a woman’s health in a myriad of ways, and maternal obesity is associated with numerous pregnancy risks (Table 12).
providing protection nutrition overweight2
Providing protection: Nutrition/Overweight

Potential benefits of preconception care

Weight loss is contraindicated in pregnancy; therefore, risk reduction must occur before conception.

Specific recommendations for providers (Gardiner et al., 2008; Moos et al., 2008)

  • Calculate a woman’s BMI annually.
  • Counsel women with BMI >25 about the risks, including infertility, for exceeding the overweight category for their own health and for future pregnancies.
  • Offer women specific behavioral strategiesto decrease caloric intake and increase physical activity. Encourage women to consider enrolling in structured weight loss programs.
providing protection nutrition underweight
Providing protection: Nutrition/Underweight

Statement of the problem

  • In 2009, 4.5 percent of women who became pregnant were under-weight (BMI <18.5) (Reinhold, 2011). Because this rate is based on pregnancy and excludes all women who developedinfertility due to their weight, it does not reflectthe magnitude of low BMI on reproductive health.
  • In a study of adolescent female athletes, 18.2 percent met the criteria for disordered eating: 23.5 percent had menstrual irregularities and 21.8 percent had low bone mass, two known results of low BMI (Nichols et al., 2006).
  • Low BMI is associated with women’s general health risks and pregnancy complications (Table 13).
providing protection nutrition underweight1
Providing protection: Nutrition/Underweight

Potential benefits of care before pregnancy

Infertility, poor pregnancy outcomes and lifelong morbidities can be reduced by addressing low BMI before conception.

Specific recommendations for providers (Gardiner et al., 2008; Moos et al., 2008)

  • Calculate BMI for all women at least annually.
  • Counsel women who are near the underweight weight status about short- and long-term risks of low BMI, including infertility, to their own health and the health of future pregnancies.
  • Assess women with a low BMI (<18.5) for eating disorders and distortions of body image.
  • If needed, refer women who are unwilling to consider and achieve weight gain for further evaluation of eating disorders.
providing protection folic acid
Providing protection: Folic acid

Statement of the problem

  • Neural tube defects (NTDs) are serious birth defects of the spine (spina bifida) and brain (anencephaly). They are among the most common birth defects in the United States. Approximately 1 in every 1,000 pregnancies is complicated by an NTD (USPSTF, 2009.)
  • A clear association exists between maternal folate levels and the occurrence of NTDs. This association provides opportunity for the primary prevention of NTDs (CDC, 1992).
  • Because the neural tube forms during the first weeks of gestation and before most women have entered into prenatal care, a preconception orientation to prevention is necessary to decrease the incidence of NTDs.
Providing protection: Folic acid

Potential benefits of care before pregnancy

  • Daily supplementation of 400 mcg of folic acid prior to conception and throughout the first trimester of pregnancy has been reported to reduce the risk of NTDs by 50 to 80 percent (CDC, 1992).
  • Randomized trials in settings without grain fortification suggest that a multivitamin with 800 mcg of folic acid reduces the risk of NTDs (USPSTF, 2009).
  • Possible additional benefits of folic acid supplementation on pregnancy outcomes include a reduction in the risk of spontaneous preterm birth (Bukowski et al., 2009; Czeizel et al., 2010) and oral cleft birth defects (Johnson & Little, 2008). Additional studies are needed.
  • Some evidence exists that folic acid supplementation positively impacts other areas of women’s health, including risk of stroke, cancer and dementia (Gardiner et al., 2008). Findings are inconsistent.
  • The likelihood that folic acid supplementation masks the symptoms of pernicious anemia are minimal given the prevalence of this disease in women of reproductive age.
providing protection folic acid1
Providing protection: Folic acid

Specific recommendation (Moos et al., 2008; USPSTF, 2009)

  • Women planning pregnancy or capable of becoming pregnant should consume 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid daily from fortified foods and/or supplements, and eat a balanced, healthy diet of folate-rich food (Table 14).
    • Supplements can be over-the-countermultivitamins or a supplement of only folic acid.
    • In the United States, foods fortified with folic acid include enriched grains (wheat flour and corn meal), cereals and juices.
  • The recommendation is not new. The CDC released the first national recommendation in 1992. It stated that all women of childbearing age in the United States who are capable of becoming pregnant should consume 400 mcg of folic acid daily to decrease the risk of a pregnancy affected by an NTD (CDC, 1992).
providing protection folic acid2
Providing protection: Folic acid

Follow up

Since 1995, the March of Dimes has commissioned Gallup surveys to assess women’s awareness and behavior relative to folic acid. After nearly 20 years, progress in women’s understanding and adoption of the routine use of folic acid has been disappointing (Table 15).

    • Something to think about…
  • Why has progress been slow in women adopting the practice of taking a multivitamin containing folic acid?
  • What can be done to improvethe situation?
providing protection preventing unintended pregnancies
Providing protection: Preventing unintended pregnancies

Statement of the problem

  • Forty-nine percent of pregnancies in the United States are identified by women as unintended (unwanted or mistimed) (Finer & Henshaw, 2006). Of these pregnancies:
    • Forty-four percent end in birth.
    • Forty-two percent end in abortion.
    • Fourteen percent end in fetal loss.
  • Everyone who has sexual intercourse is at risk for an unintended pregnancy because there is no perfect contraceptive, including sterilization (Trussell, 2007).
  • Forty-eight percent of unintended pregnancies occur in a month in which a couple used some method of contraception (Finer & Henshaw, 2006).
  • Something to think about…
  • What is a practice-based, a community-based and a policy-based strategy that could decrease unintended pregnancies for the women and families you serve?
providing protection preventing unintended pregnancies1
Providing protection: Preventing unintended pregnancies

Statement of the problem (continued)

  • Although the rate of unintended pregnancy is declining for adolescents (ages 15-17), it is increasing for nearly all other groups (Finer & Zolna, 2011) and is associated with negative consequences (Table 16).
providing protection preventing unintended pregnancies2
Providing protection: Preventing unintended pregnancies

Potential benefits of care before pregnancy

  • Primary prevention of unintended pregnancy can only occur before a pregnancy is conceived. All health care visits before pregnancy offer opportunities to educate women (and men) about the advantages of making deliberate decisions regarding future conceptions (Moos, 2010).

Specific recommendations for providers (Moos et al., 2008)

  • As part of routine health promotion activities, screen women for their short- and long-term pregnancy intentions and their risk of conceiving, whether intended or not.
  • Encourage all patients to consider areproductive life plan (Table 17) and educate themabout how their plan impacts contraceptive and medical decision-making. The CDC Select Panel (2006) endorses use of reproductive life plans. Reproductive life plans offer women and men the opportunity to consider personal goals and values in context with childbearing.
providing protection avoiding short interpregnancy intervals ipis
Providing protection: Avoiding short interpregnancy intervals (IPIs)

Statement of the problem

  • IPI is generally defined as the amount of time between the delivery date of a liveborn or stillborn infant and conception of the next pregnancy.
  • A meta-analysis of 67 articles studying the impact of IPIs determined that intervals <18 months and >59 months are significantly associated with poor pregnancy outcomes (Table 18) (Conde-Agudelo, Rosas-Bermudez & Kafury-Goeta, 2006).
    • The study suggests that IPIs <6 months and >59 months increase the risk of fetal and early neonatal death.
    • For each month the IPI is <18 months, the risk for poor outcomes increases; for each month the IPI increases beyond 59 months, risks become greater.
providing protection avoiding short ipis
Providing protection: Avoiding short IPIs

Statement of the problem (continued)

    • While it is common to suggest that poor outcomes associated with short IPIs are due to influences such as socioeconomic status, inadequate use of health care services, and greater use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances, the study found that controlling for these influences does not significantly alter the findings.

Potential benefits of care before pregnancy

  • Decrease risks for poor pregnancy outcomes
  • Increase likelihood that women and their partners have the information needed to make informed decisions about the timing of future pregnancies

Specific recommendations for providers

  • Educate women about the importance of appropriate IPI.
  • Guide women on contraceptive choices.
  • Encourage women to make reproductive life plans and, when appropriate, to discuss them with sexual partners.
providing protection immunizations
Providing protection: Immunizations

Statement of the problem (Coonrod et al., 2008)

  • Many vaccine-preventable diseases have serious consequences for the pregnant woman, the fetus and the neonate. Among these are vaccines that:
    • Protect the fetus from congenital infections (e.g.,varicella)
    • Prevent perinatal transmission of infection (e.g., hepatitis B)
    • May prevent premature birth (e.g., vaccines that prevent human papillomavirus [HPV] infections)
    • Protect against severe neonatal disease (e.g., varicella, pertussis and tetanus)
    • Increase the likelihood of life-threatening complications for a woman during pregnancy (e.g., varicella and influenza)
  • To provide protection, some vaccines (e.g., varicella and rubella) must be administered in the preconception period because they are contraindicated in pregnancy (Table 19).
providing protection immunizations2
Providing protection: Immunizations

Potential benefits of care before pregnancy

  • Assuring that every woman is immune to rubella prior to conception can eliminate congenital rubella syndrome; because the rubella immunization involves a live virus, it cannot safely be administered during pregnancy.
  • Routine assessment of infections, risks and administration of indicated immunizations canprevent avoidable infections before, during and after pregnancy and can provide protection to the fetus and neonate.
  • HPV immunization may reduce a woman’s risk of premature birth because procedures used to treat HPV and cervical cancer have been associated with cervical incompetence. These procedures include cone biopsies and loop electrosurgical excision procedures (LEEP) (Coonrod et al., 2008).
    • Something to think about…
  • How do immunizations fit into the life course framework?
providing protection immunizations3
Providing protection: Immunizations

Specific recommendations for providersabout immunizationstatus (Coonrod et al., 2008; Moos et al., 2008)

  • Review the immunization status of all women of reproductive age for
    • Tetanus-diphtheria toxoid/diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis
    • Measles, mumps and rubella
    • Varicella
  • Assess all women annually for lifestyle and occupational risks for infection and offerwomen indicated immunizations.

Specific recommendations for providers about HPV-associated abnormalities

  • Routinely screen all women for cervical cancer adhering to the latest guidelines (USPSTF, 2012). The CDC (2010, 2011b) recommends that all 11 to 12 year old girls and boys receive three doses of the HPV vaccine. The vaccine can be administered safely and effectively to girls and boys from 13 to 26 who do not receive or complete the series.
  • The vaccine decreases the incidence of HPV-related cervical abnormalities in women and oropharyngeal and anal cancers in men.
avoiding harmful exposures tobacco use
Avoiding harmful exposures: Tobacco use

Statement of the problem

Tobacco use before, during and after pregnancy leads to adverse health conditions for women, their pregnancies and their babies (Table 20).

avoiding harmful exposures tobacco use1
Avoiding harmful exposures: Tobacco use

Potential benefits of care before pregnancy

  • Tobacco use is the largest preventable cause of premature death and avoidable illness among women in the United States (ACOG, 2007). It is associated with more than 400,000 annual deaths from cancer, respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease (USPSTF, 2009).
  • Cessation of tobacco use at anytime in pregnancy is beneficial; however, cessation before pregnancy has the added advantages of:
    • Protecting a woman’s short- and long-term health
    • Decreasing the likelihood a woman will resume smoking in the postpartum period
    • Preventing some placental abnormalities, including placenta previa, associated with tobacco use
  • Efficacy of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) during pregnancy has not been established, and its safety for pregnant women and fetuses has not been proven (Forest, 2010).
avoiding harmful exposures tobacco use2
Avoiding harmful exposures: Tobacco use

Specific recommendations for providers (Floyd et al., 2008; Moos et al., 2008)

  • Assess all women for smoking at each patient encounter.
  • Counsel women who smoke using the 5A’s (Table 21) (USPSTF, 2009).
  • Provide a brief intervention to all smokers that includes:
    • Counseling that describes the benefits of no tobacco use before, during and after pregnancy.
    • Discussion of NRT and other medication therapies.
    • Referral to more intensive services (individual, group, or telephone counseling), if the woman is willing.
avoiding harmful exposures alcohol use
Avoiding harmful exposures: Alcohol use

Statement of the problem

  • Fifty-three percent of nonpregnant women age 15 to 44 drink alcohol (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA], 2007). In 2010, 15.4 percent of nonpregnant women in the same age range reported binge drinking (March of Dimes, 2011a).Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks on at least one occasion during the past month.
  • The 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (SAMHSA, 2007) found that 11.8 percent of pregnant women reported current alcohol use, and 2.9 percent reported binge drinking.
  • Alcohol use is associated with liver disease, osteoporosis, neurologic disorders, menstrual symptoms, mental health diagnoses, unintended pregnancies and motor vehicle and other accidents. It can progress from use to abuse to addiction (Kearney, 2008; Moos, 2008).
  • Prenatal alcohol use is a leading preventable cause of birth defects and developmental disabilities (CDC, 2009).
avoiding harmful exposures alcohol use1
Avoiding harmful exposures: Alcohol use

Statement of the problem (continued)

  • Fetal alcohol exposure is associated with miscarriage, IUGR and the continuum of disabilities called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) (Floyd et al., 2008; Kearney, 2008; Moos et al., 2008).
    • Estimates of the prevalence of FASD is between 0.3 to 2 cases per 1,000 live births (Floyd et al., 2008).
    • FASD includes fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS is characterized by growth restriction, physical anomalies and neurodevelopmental abnormalities, including intellectual disabilities (Kearney, 2008).
    • An estimated 11 percent of pregnant women who drink 1 to 2 ounces of absolute alcohol a day during the first trimester have offspring with features consistent with FAS (Warren & Blast, 1988). However, any exposure — even one episode of binge drinking during a critical period of organogenesis — can result in FAS.
avoiding harmful exposures alcohol use2
Avoiding harmful exposures: Alcohol use

Potential benefits of care before pregnancy

Because FAS only can occur if the embryo is exposed to alcohol in the earliest weeks of pregnancy, the only opportunity to prevent it is to reach all women at risk for pregnancy with education, screening and appropriate interventions to avoid all alcohol.

Specific recommendations for providers (Floyd et al., 2008; Moos et al., 2008)

  • Assess all women at least annually for alcohol use patterns and risky drinking behaviors, and provide appropriate counseling.
  • Advise all women of the potential risks of alcohol use for their own health and the health of any future pregnancies and offspring.
  • Counsel women that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption at any time in pregnancy.
  • Something to think about…

What are the hazards of obtaining alcohol histories on selected patients? How can these risks be eliminated?

avoiding harmful exposures illegal drugs
Avoiding harmful exposures: Illegal drugs

Statement of the problem

  • Women who use illegal drugs have higher rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis, domestic violence and depression than women not exposed to such drugs (Kearney, 2008).
    • In 2006, among nonpregnant women age 15 to 44, 10 percent reported illegal drug use during the past month, including marijuana, cocaine, inhalants, hallucinogens and heroin (SAMHSA, 2007).
    • Illegal drug use during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of maternal complications and poor outcomes for the offspring. Most investigations around the effects of illegal drugs on pregnancy outcomes involve cocaine and marijuana (Floyd et al., 2008) (Table22).
avoiding harmful substances illegal drugs
Avoiding harmful substances: Illegal drugs

Potential benefits of care before pregnancy

Becoming drug-free can be a difficult and lengthy process. Because pregnancy risks associated with the use of illegal drugs are significant, the safest choice for a woman, her pregnancy and future offspring is to achieve abstinence prior to conception.

Specific recommendations for providers (Floyd et al., 2008)

  • Obtain a careful history on all women to identify illegal drug use.
  • Counsel women of childbearing age about the risks of illegal drug use for their own health and for the health of any future pregnancies and offspring.
  • Refer women to appropriate counseling and treatment programs that support abstinence and rehabilitation.
  • Offer women contraception until they are drug-free and desire conception.
avoiding harmful exposures prescription and over the counter otc drugs
Avoiding harmful exposures: Prescription and over-the counter (OTC) drugs

Statement of the problem

  • Over the last 3 decades, prescription drug use by pregnant women in the first trimester increased by more than 60 percent, and the use of four or more drugs more than tripled; in 2008, 50 percent of women reported taking at least one prescription drug in the first trimester, and 7.5 percent reported taking four or more in the first trimester (Mitchell et al., 2011).
  • In two databases, 56.9 percent of women reported taking an OTC analgesic before conception and 59.3 percent reported taking one in the first trimester of pregnancy (Werler et al., 2005).
  • National surveys estimate that 18 to 52 percent of the U.S. popula- tion use dietary supplements, including vitamins, herbs, traditional medicines, folk remedies and weight-loss and sports enhancements (Gardiner et al., 2008). The safety and efficacy of many of these products, in general and in pregnancy, have not been established.
avoiding harmful exposures prescription and over the counter drugs
Avoiding harmful exposures: Prescription and over-the counter drugs

Statement of the problem (continued)

  • Congenital anomalies are a leading cause of infant death and disability.
    • Approximately 10 to 15 percent of congenital anomalies in the United States are due to teratogenic maternal exposures to prescription and OTC medications (Dunlop, Gardiner et al., 2008).
    • Congenital anomalies due to drug use are preventable because they are caused by modifiable maternal exposures during the earliest weeks of pregnancy. Prevention of congenital anomalies and other adverse consequences of fetal exposure to drugs in the first trimester requires careful assessment of all drug exposures, counseling about their potential risks during pregnancy and, in the case of chronic diseases and acute care, prescribing medications with the strongest safety profiles.
  • A challenge for health care providers is to address the balance between effectiveness and safety when prescribing drugs for women who could become pregnant.
avoiding harmful exposures prescription and over the counter drugs1
Avoiding harmful exposures: Prescription and over-the counter drugs

Statement of the problem (continued)

  • Clinical trials for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval generally exclude pregnant women. The trials require monitoring reproductive performance in animals; however, safety in these trials cannot be extrapolated as safety for humans. Many examples exist whereby safety in animal models do not equate with safety for human fetuses (Dunlop, Gardiner et al., 2008).
  • The FDA classification system (Table 23) allows clinicians to interpret risks associated with medication use during pregnancy. The system has come under increasing criticism (Briggs, Freeman & Yaffe, 2011):
    • Complex considerations that should accompany prescribing med-ication for women of childbearing potential are oversimplified.
    • Risk is undifferentiated between trimesters of exposure.
    • Letters in the system suggest a gradation of risk when, in fact, they summarize the level of evidence available.
    • In response to these and other concerns, the FDA is proposing a new approach to summarize the risks of specific drugs during pregnancy and lactation (Dunlop, Gardiner et al., 2008).
avoiding harmful exposures prescription and over the counter drugs3
Avoiding harmful exposures: Prescription and over-the counter drugs

Potential benefits of care before pregnancy

By assisting women who may become pregnant to avoid prescription and OTC drugs known to be teratogenic or otherwise harmful in pregnancy, the likelihood of birth defects from inadvertent exposures can be eliminated.

Specific recommendations for providers about prescription drugs

(Dunlop, Gardiner et al., 2008)

  • Screen all women before pregnancy for use of teratogenic medications and drugs with questionable safety profiles.
  • Counsel women about the potential impact of chronic health conditions and related medications on pregnancy outcomes for both the woman and the fetus.
  • Whenever possible, change a woman’s potentially teratogenic medications to safer drug choices before conception; prescribe the fewest number and lowest doses of essential medications.
avoiding harmful exposures prescription and over the counter drugs4
Avoiding harmful exposures: Prescription and over-the counter drugs

Specific recommendations for providers about prescription drugs (continued)

  • Choose drugs with long records of safety; refrain from prescribing a drug that has only recently come on the market for a woman who may become pregnant.
  • Counsel women not to stop taking prescription medications without talking to their provider first. Independently stopping some medications could prove life-threatening. For example, stopping seizure medications could lead to seizures while driving, putting the woman and others at risk.
avoiding harmful exposures prescription over the counter and other drugs
Avoiding harmful exposures: Prescription, over-the-counter and other drugs

Specific recommendations for providers about OTC medications(Dunlop, Gardiner et al., 2008)

  • Encourage women of reproductive age to discuss their use of OTC medications when planning a pregnancy.
  • Advise women not to use aspirin if they are planning a pregnancy or become pregnant.

Specific recommendations for providers about dietary supplements (Gardiner et al., 2008)

  • Encourage women of reproductive age to discuss their use of dietary supplements before pregnancy. Dietary supplements include all vitamins, herbs, weight-loss products and sports supplements.
  • Caution women about the unknown safety profile of many supplements.
  • When indicated, encourage use of high quality and prescription-quality supplements.
avoiding harmful exposures illicit use of prescription drugs
Avoiding harmful exposures: Illicit use of prescription drugs

Statement of the problem

A growing problem in the United States is the abuse of prescription drugs and the resultant addictions. CDC (2011a) reveals:

  • The number of overdose deaths from prescription drugs is greater than deaths from heroin and cocaine combined.
  • In 2010, about 12 million Americans over the age of 11 reported using prescription painkillers for nonmedically indicated purposes in the past year.
  • Prescription painkiller overdoses killed nearly 15,000 people in the United States in 2008, compared to 4,000 in 1999.
  • Beyond death from overdosing, prescription drug abuse is associated with moremotor vehicle crashes, self harm and interpersonal violence than illegal drug use.
  • Prescription drug abuse, specifically opioids, is associated with congenital defects, newborn withdrawal syndrome and infertility.
avoiding harmful exposures illicit use of prescription drugs1
Avoiding harmful exposures: Illicit use of prescription drugs

Potential benefits of care before pregnancy

The specific fetal and neonatal effects of all prescription drug exposures are unknown; however, the psychological, behavioral, social and physical toll on women who are addicted to prescription drugs is unlikely to benefit pregnancy outcomes.

Specific recommendations for providers about illicit use of prescriptions drugs

Given the emerging epidemic of prescription drug abuse, the identification of abuse and appropriate treatment are recommended in the care of all women.

  • Something to think about…

In your practice, how do you assess and address the nonmedical use of prescription drugs? What are ways the process could be improved?

managing medical conditions overview
Managing medical conditions: Overview
  • In every pregnancy there are (at least) two patients — the woman and the fetus. Medical conditions and treatments can affect these patients differently. To minimize risk, providers must consider the potential impact of conditions and treatments on both patients.
  • Routine care of all women includes assessing risk for acute and chronic diseases and providing or modifying the treatment regimen based on a woman’s desire or likelihood for pregnancy.
  • Chronic health conditions are common in women of reproductive age (Table 24).
managing medical conditions overview1
Managing medical conditions: Overview
    • More than half of all women of reproductive age have one or more risk factors for developing a chronic disease (Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, 2008).
    • In general, women of color have a higher prevalence of chronic disease (except for depression/anxiety and thyroid disease) (Rangi & Salganicoff, 2011).
  • Table 25 includes strategies for minimizing risks during pregnancy in women with chronic diseases.
managing medical conditions overview2
Managing medical conditions: Overview
  • Information on these and other conditions reviewed by the CWG is available at under “Articles and Guidance”.
      • Asthma
      • Cardiovascular disease
      • Diabetes mellitus
      • Hypertension
      • Phenylketonuria
      • Psychiatric conditions
      • Rheumatoid arthritis
      • Seizure disorders
      • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
      • Thrombophilia
      • Thyroid disease

The following slides discuss the preconception management of two common chronic conditions: diabetes mellitus (DM) and hypertension (HTN).

managing medical conditions diabetes mellitus dm
Managing medical conditions: Diabetes mellitus (DM)

Statement of the problem

Women with DM that predates conception are at increased risk for spontaneous abortion, congenital malformations and other pregnancy complications (Dunlop, Jack et al., 2008;Mahmud & Mazza, 2010).

  • The risk of pregnancy being complicated by congenital malformations in the general populations is 2 to 3 percent. It is as much as 3 times higher for women with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
  • Poor glucose control in the earliest weeks of pregnancy has been identified as the key risk factor for these anomalies.
  • Common birth defects in offspring of women with DM include:
    • Central nervous system anomalies, such as NTDs and anencephaly
    • Complex cardiac defects
    • Skeletal malformations
managing medical conditions dm
Managing medical conditions: DM

Potential benefits of care before pregnancy

  • Women who achieve strict glycemic control before pregnancy and maintain it throughout the period of organogenesis (17 to 56 days after conception) markedly reduce their risk of having a child with congenital malformations (Ray, O’Brien & Chan, 2001).
  • Waiting until a woman starts prenatal care to initiate strategies to prevent malformations is waiting too long.
  • Pregnancy may advance DM-related complications to the woman’s health. A thorough preconception risk assessment and patient education based on the findings are necessary so the woman (and her partner) can make informed decisions about the risks of pregnancy to her health.
managing medical conditions dm1
Managing medical conditions: DM

Specific recommendations for providers (Dunlop, Jack et al., 2008)

  • Counsel women with DM about the importance of DM control before they become pregnant. Discuss achieving/maintaining optimal weight and maximizing DM control in combination with other health promotion topics.
  • Help the woman achieve glycosylated hemoglobin levels as near to normal as possible in the months preceding conception.

Other recommendations for providers

(Mahmud & Mazza, 2010)

    • Counsel all women about the risk of congenital malformations related to uncontrolled blood sugar.
    • Counsel women about the importance of delaying conception until diabetes is in optimal control; support use of contraceptive method.
    • Use hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C) levels to monitor metabolic control.
    • Use insulin to help a woman achieve optimal metabolic control.
managing medical conditions dm2
Managing medical conditions: DM

Otherrecommendations for providers (continued)

  • Assess all drugs a woman takes for safety in pregnancy and replace with safer choices, if needed. These include medications she may take for comorbidities, such as hypertension.
  • Assess the degree to which target organs, such as eyes and kidneys, already have been affected by DM.
  • Encourage multidisciplinary participation in the care team, including the primary care provider, obstetrician, endocrinologist, diabetic educator and dietician.
    • Something to think about…
  • What contribution does adding a nurse to the care team provide?
managing medical conditions hypertension htn
Managing medical conditions: Hypertension (HTN)

Statement of the problem

  • Chronic HTN is a common condition that affects 11 percent of women of childbearing age; the prevalence is higher in women of color and increases with advancing age (Ranji & Salganicoff, 2011).
  • Chronic HTN is associated with maternal and fetal complications (Table 26).
managing medical conditions htn
Managing medical conditions: HTN

Statement of the problem (continued)

  • The use of ACE inhibitors and angiotensin-receptor blockers are contraindicated in pregnancy; very limited, high-quality data exists on the safety of other therapies during the earliest weeks of gestation or beyond.

Potential benefits of care before pregnancy

Health assessments, education and therapy alterations before pregnancy can help minimize risks to women and to their fetuses.

Specific recommendations for providers (Dunlop, Jack et al., 2008)

  • As part of routine prepregnancycare, advise women of childbearing age who have chronic HTN about increased risks to themselves and their offspring.
  • Discuss the advantages of planning pregnancy and achieving blood pressure control using the fewest and safest medications possible before stopping contraception or risking pregnancy.
managing medical conditions htn1
Managing medical conditions: HTN

Specific recommendations for providers (continued)

  • Explore with the woman her reproductive life plan and counsel and support her on the use of safe and effective methods of contraception.
  • Counsel the woman about weight loss through changes in diet and exercise to potentially decrease the amount of medication required to control her HTN.
  • Assess women with severe or longstanding chronic HTN for ventricular hypertrophy, retinopathy and renal function prior to conception. This provides baseline data and a basis for individualized counseling regarding the risk of pregnancy.
    • Something to think about…
  • The care of women with chronic diseases often focuses on the specific disease and overlooks other important preventive care. What are routine preventive needs that should be assessed in the care of all women of childbearing potential?
other important nursing considerations in each of the three key areas
Other important nursing considerations in each of the three key areas
  • Providing protection: sexually transmitted infections, psychosocial stressors; against repeat poor pregnancy outcome
  • Avoiding harmful exposures: environmental exposures, psychosocial stressors
  • Managing conditions: infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis C, etc., psychiatric conditions, genetic conditions

Another important area: How men fit into the preconception health movement (Frey, Navarro, Kotelchuck & Lu, 2008)

how to learn more about the content of preconception health care
How to learn more about the content of preconception health care?

Additional resources on preconception care valuable for nursing practice:

  • Before, Between and Beyond, the National Curriculum and Resources Guide for Clinicians
  • CDC’s Preconception Health and Health Care Topics
  • Initiatives for specific states/regions
    • Every Woman California
      • CO Preconception and Interconception Care Guideline
      • Every Woman Florida
      • Every Woman Southeast
  • Something to think about…

What is your state doing for preconception health promotion?

objective 3

Objective 3:

Describe a framework for incorporating preconception care into clinical practice

preconception care in nursing practice
Preconception care in nursing practice
  • Every day maternal/child health nurses encounter women of childbearing age. When a nurse sees women of reproductive age, it is not a question of whether they’re providing preconception care but, rather, a question of what kind or preconception care they are providing (Stanford & Hobbins, 2001).
  • It may be hard to convince most women to get a special preconception checkup:
    • It can be expensive in terms of personal and professional resources.
    • It will miss, at minimum, the 49 percent of women (Finer & Henshaw, 2006) who experience unintended pregnancies each year.
  • The opportunistic approach to preconception care takes advantage of encounters women already have with the health care system (Moos et al., 2008).
preconception care in nursing practice1
Preconception care in nursing practice
  • By adopting the Every Woman, Every Time framework, nurses can orient their practice, counseling and education strategies toward helping every woman achieve high levels of wellness for the short- and long-term; nurses can impact the preconception health status of women who subsequently become pregnant (Moos, 2008).
  • Common practice venues where nurses can help women achieve higher levels of wellness
  • Emergency rooms
  • Family planning clinics
  • Primary care clinics
  • Chronic disease settings
  • Worksite health centers
  • College student health services
  • Postpartum home and clinic visits
  • Well baby and pediatric visits
  • Neonatal intensive care units (NICUs)
  • School health settings
preconception care in nursing practice2
Preconception care in nursing practice
  • The nation’s energies around preconception health promotion present an ideal opportunity for nurses to assume leadership roles in advancing women’s wellness and the preconception agenda (Moos, 2003). The professional nurse has the necessary skill set to impact the life course for individual women and their offspring (Table 27).
preconception care in nursing practice4
Preconception care in nursing practice
  • To incorporate new emphases into busy clinical practices can seem overwhelming. However, letting go of usual practices and testing new approaches offer opportunities to work smarter, not harder (Moos, 2009):
    • Engaging the entire staff in strategies to consider prevention opportunities for every woman, every time. For example, the person who answers a clinic’s phone can rotate a series of health promotion messages in her greeting.
    • Having standardized health and wellness assessments completed by women prior to their clinical visit.
    • Encouraging women, prior to their annual visit, to set three priority health goals for the next year.
    • Helping women identify specific steps to work toward their priority goals and treat the steps seriously; “wellness prescriptions” can be used underscore the importance of prevention activities (Moos, 2009).
    • Using electronic medical records to address important prevention activities, such as updating immunizations, assessing reproductive life plans, counseling around BMI, and assessing and addressing tobacco and alcohol use.

The skills and activities needed to impact a woman’s preconception health status are ideally suited to the professional nurse (Moos, 2003). Through outreach, assessment, education, patient-centered counseling and support, nurses can strengthen the foundations for a healthier tomorrow—for women, for pregnancies, for babies and for families. Indeed, in many ways, the future is in the hands of nurses.

Preconception Health Promotion: The Foundation for a Healthier Tomorrow

To see the Guidelines and References for this module, click here.

To print a PDF of this module, click here.

To take the Independent Study Test, click here.