People don’t mind their GP popping the question: ‘Would you like to become pregnant in the next year?’
The health of people before conception and when they conceive affects the health of their pregnancy and child. That’s why it’s important for people who want to have a baby to be as heathy as possible before they start trying. People wanting to conceive should aim to be a healthy weight, not smoke, limit alcohol intake, exercise regularly, eat well and avoid some chemicals to give their baby the best start to life.
Because pre-conception health is so important for the health of the future generation, it’s been suggested that GPs and other primary health professionals should routinely ask people of reproductive age if they plan to have children in the next 12 months. If the answer is ‘no’ it's a great opportunity to discuss contraception. If the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’, they can discuss pre-conception health and book a pre-conception health check.
So is this already happening? Our research shows that although GPs and primary health care nurses believe it’s their role to promote pre-conception health, they rarely discuss it with patients. Barriers include difficulty bringing the topic up, uncertainly about how people would feel about being asked, and a lack of resources to share with patients who want information about pre-conception health.
But new research shows they should not be afraid to raise the topic. In a recent study we asked more than 700 women and men aged 18 to 45 about their health behaviours and the likelihood they would change health behaviours in preparation for pregnancy. We also asked how they would feel about being asked about their pregnancy intention. About one in six respondents reported that they were smokers, more than half consumed alcohol most days, one in 12 used recreational drugs at least monthly, almost one third rarely exercised and almost half considered themselves to be overweight.
But the good news was that most respondents indicated they would try to optimise their health in one or more ways if they were planning to have a child now or in the future. And almost three quarters stated that they would not mind or would even appreciate being asked about their pregnancy plans.
The findings of this study suggest that people are aware of the importance of pre-conception health and likely to appreciate being supported by their doctor in their efforts to improve their health in the context of pregnancy planning. They also indicate that most women and men would be positive about being asked about their pregnancy intentions. To help primary health care professionals broach the subject of pre-conception health a range of evidence-based downloadable resources about fertility and pre-conception are available on the Your Fertility website.
Hammarberg K, Hassard J, de Silva R, Johnson L: Acceptability of screening for pregnancy intention in general practice: a population survey of people of reproductive age. BMC Fam Pract 2020, 21(1):40.