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For Release:  Feb. 7, 2011
Contact:  Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
(405) 271-5601

Better Health for Potential Parents Can Improve Health Outcomes for Mother and Baby

While advances in medical care have improved chances for survival of babies born in Oklahoma, unhealthy outcomes related to pregnancy and childbirth, including low birth weight, preterm birth, and maternal death, have not improved over the last 20 years.  Only nine states in the nation have higher infant mortality rates than Oklahoma. 

Data from a recent public health study by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) showed that early prenatal care is not always enough to reduce these unhealthy maternal and infant outcomes.  Although early prenatal care may identify and treat some health conditions, the fetus may have been exposed to risk factors before prenatal care began.  Health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, alcohol, and tobacco use all may complicate pregnancy and harm an unborn baby. 

“One of the reasons for persistent unhealthy outcomes for mothers and babies in Oklahoma is that almost half of all births are the result of unintended pregnancies,” said Suzanna Dooley, chief, OSDH Maternal and Child Health Service. 

Preconception health (or health prior to pregnancy) has gained recognition as an important way to reduce health issues before they can affect a pregnancy.  All females of childbearing age should see a healthcare provider about risk factors such as family health history, tobacco and alcohol use, pre-existing medical conditions, body weight, nutrition and physical activity, and needed vaccines, before they get pregnant. 

The Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) study on preconception health used data collected from 2005 to 2008.  The study found that preconception care is not routinely provided to all women. In addition the study found that:

  • Only 12 percent of Oklahoma women received advice or counseling to prepare for becoming pregnant.
  • Maternal age and race were significant contributors to the likelihood of receipt of preconception care in Oklahoma, with women  ages 20 to 24 having some of the lowest rates of care.  African American mothers were more likely to receive preconception advice or counseling.
  • Preconception care visits were associated with reduced smoking during pregnancy.
  • Preconception care visits were associated with increased regular multivitamin use before pregnancy.
  • Preconception care visits were associated with receiving first trimester prenatal care.
  • More research is needed on the content and quality of preconception care and the satisfaction with and understanding of the advice or counseling received. 

OSDH public health officials have the following recommendations:

  • Educate health care providers to view every interaction with a female or male of reproductive age as an opportunity for preconception health counseling.
  • Educate males and females on the connection between everyday health and future pregnancy health. 
  • Include preconception health in evidence-based health education in schools to reinforce the importance of health across a lifespan and how it impacts health across generations.
  • Provide the tobacco quit line number to females who smoke or have partners who smoke: 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669).
  • Learn more about the “Preparing for a Lifetime, It’s Everyone’s Responsibility” initiative to improve health care before, during, between and after pregnancies: http://iio.health.ok.gov

For more information about the “Preparing for a Lifetime, It’s Everyone’s Responsibility” initiative or the PRAMS study, contact the OSDH Maternal and Child Health Service at (405) 271-4476. 

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