Boosting preconception health care

  • Female doctor with patient
    Planting the seed video
  • Man with younfg child on shoulders

Most young Australians want to have at least one baby in their lifetime. But research shows many are missing out on the chance to start a family or are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy that catches them off-guard.

In 2022, Your Fertility, a government-funded organisation, wants people in rural, regional and remote Australia to get preconception health advice at the right time to maximise their chance of a healthy pregnancy and baby – or contraception if they need it.  

With telehealth increasing access to primary health care outside of major cities, Your Fertility is encouraging health professionals to ask patients of reproductive age about their pregnancy intentions using its free ‘Planting the Seed’ resources.

Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that, on average, young people living outside of major cities are more likely to engage in risky behaviours that can affect fertility and harm a baby, such as smoking, compared to their city counterparts.

Here’s five reasons why health professionals should make this a focus for people in rural, regional and remote Australia in 2022.

You can improve the health of babies

Parenting starts before conception. People who plan a pregnancy and are in good health before they try to conceive have healthier babies.

The quality of eggs and sperm at the time of conception will affect the health of the baby at birth and into adulthood. Pregnancy planners can use the months leading up to pregnancy to improve the quality of eggs and sperm by eating a well-balanced diet, avoiding harmful chemicals and not smoking or drinking alcohol. For women, taking folic acid and being up to date with vaccinations, including for COVID-19, reduces the baby’s risk of birth defects and harmful infections.

You can reduce the risk of pregnancy complications

It is now clear that pregnant women have a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and that their babies are at higher risk of premature birth. So, if your patient is thinking about getting pregnant, help her maximise her protection against COVID-19 by getting vaccinated as soon as possible.

According to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Australian Government Department of Health, women who are trying to become pregnant do not need to delay vaccination or avoid becoming pregnant after vaccination and pregnant women can have the vaccine at any stage of pregnancy.

You can help prevent infertility

Every year, thousands of Australians find themselves suffering age-related infertility. It can be a heartbreaking experience, and costly in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment is often fruitless. While IVF has helped countless women and men have much-wanted babies, most people over the age of 40 years finish IVF without a baby. Asking your patients about their pregnancy plans allows you to talk about the impact of age on fertility and chance of IVF success. Data shows IVF should not be considered a back-up plan.

You can prevent unplanned pregnancies

For the one in four pregnancies in Australia that are unplanned, the opportunity for parents to improve their pre-conception health was missed. By asking about pregnancy plans you can offer advice about reliable contraception to those who don’t want or are ambivalent about pregnancy.

Patients are okay with it

Research shows GPs want to be involved in shaping the health of the next generation, and most patients don’t mind being asked about their pregnancy plans. In fact, many say they would appreciate it.

You can find ‘Planting the Seed’ resources here, including videos of how to ask the question and a flow chart for responding to patients’ plans.

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