In June 2023, Your Fertility – a government-funded health education program – launched an updated version of our preconception health check tool called Healthy You, Healthy Baby. The online quiz was informed by research involving people in rural, regional and remote Australia and is designed to help anyone learn what they can do to be in the best health possible before trying for a baby.
Preconception health relates to how healthy someone is before they become pregnant. Being in optimal health prior to pregnancy improves chances of conception, pregnancy outcomes for the mother and baby, and childhood health. It’s still an emerging area of research but the data that is available shows that the preconception period is vital and poor maternal health and diet prior to and in the early stages of pregnancy, can lead to impaired fetal and infant growth, poor birth outcomes and long-term effects on cardiovascular and metabolic disease. Research also shows that a man’s health at the time of conception affects his partner’s chance of pregnancy and the baby’s future health.
There are many components to consider: a person’s age, medical history, medications, activity levels, alcohol consumption, smoking, environmental exposures and some preventive activities such as taking nutritional supplements. It’s also important to do cervical screening and check for infections and genetic conditions.
Preconception health is important, but women rarely visit their doctor to specifically discuss it –studies show that women will only visit their general practitioner when they have trouble conceiving or once they are pregnant. Primary care providers are well placed to be on the frontline of preconception support, especially in rural, regional and remote Australia where care generally comes from the primary provider. The first step is for primary care providers to talk to their patients about their reproductive intentions (we have developed some short videos to help).
Further challenges to providing preconception care to people in rural, regional and remote Australia include low levels of awareness about its importance, limited access to providers (people living in these communities have less access to primary healthcare services than people who live in major cities) and lack of time during appointments. In addition, rural, regional and remote communities have higher numbers of people who are overweight and obese, smoke and engage in risky alcohol consumption than major cities – which are all potentially modifiable factors.
The government has identified online services as playing a key role in the improvement of health outcomes for people who live in rural, regional and remote Australia. Digital health tools, such as online self-assessments, are one solution to overcoming some of the barriers to providing preconception care.
With all this in mind, researchers at the University of Sydney worked to understand the way that people in rural, regional and remote Australia think about preconception care. Based on a mixed-method approach, they discovered that people are keen to learn how to best prepare themselves for pregnancy and usually find health information online.
Based on this research, we updated our digital preconception healthcare tool that was originally launched in 2020, resulting in the new Healthy You, Healthy Baby online tool.
The new tool can be used on a smart phone or desktop and takes about three minutes to complete. After answering a few questions, it creates a list that people can take to their preconception health check. One of the biggest barriers to providing preconception health care that practitioners have raised is lack of time. The checklist saves time during an appointment by highlighting areas for people to work on. It shows patients things that need work right away, things to consider and areas where they’re doing well.
We encourage health providers treating men and women in rural, regional and remote Australia to ask their patients about their reproductive plans and, if someone is thinking of having a baby in the next year, direct them to Your Fertility’s Healthy You, Healthy Baby tool to prepare for a preconception health check.