Preconception care, which addresses risks to birthing parents and their partners before conception, is essential to improve the health of people who are starting their family-building journeys and ultimately improve maternal health outcomes. However, 86% of women are not getting preconception care from their physician, and 92% of men say their physician has not discussed reproductive health with them.
Preconception care has been shown to be an important determinant of fertility, improving chances of conception, reducing stress and unnecessary fertility treatments, and improving health outcomes for parent and child. At its core, preconception care recognizes that there are many factors that impact a person’s fertility and treats the whole person, not just their symptoms. So why aren’t more people receiving preconception care? In this article, we’ll explore whole-person preconception care, how it can impact your employees, and how you can provide support during this critical family-building stage.
What is preconception care?
Preconception care is personalized, preventative care that addresses risks to potential birthing parents and their partners, whether they’re planning to conceive now or in the future. It encompasses a wide range of medical, behavioral, and social interventions designed to improve the health of aspiring parents, identify and treat the underlying causes of fertility, and reduce risks to the unborn child and birthing parent.
Preconception care typically entails screening for diseases that may affect reproductive organs, prescriptions of vitamins like folic acid, reducing tobacco and alcohol consumption, and proactive management of chronic conditions that can affect conception and birth, like high blood pressure or diabetes.
Why don’t more people receive preconception care?
While preconception care is an essential step in ensuring healthy birthing parents, partners, and babies, the vast majority of people aren’t receiving preconception care. A recent meta-analysis found three primary factors contributing to the low rate of care in the U.S.:
- Lack of awareness: One study found that 52% of men and 43% of women have not seen, heard, or read anything about recommendations for preconception care. This lack of messaging and awareness reduces the number of people who seek and out receive this crucial care.
- Low health literacy: A lack of general knowledge about health and navigating the healthcare system can also lead to low rates of preconception care, especially in historically marginalized communities. Studies have shown that 32% of Hispanic mothers, 31% of Black mothers, and 72% of low-income mothers were rated as having inadequate maternal health literacy.
- Barriers to access: Even if people recognize the need for preconception care, many may not be able to access services to receive the care they need. Almost one-half of counties in the U.S. don’t have an OB-GYN, and 40% don’t have an obstetrician or certified midwife.
The whole-person approach
Overcoming barriers to preconception care is rooted in recognizing the physical, emotional, and financial needs of birthing parents and their partners. Educating aspiring parents about their unique conditions and risk factors can help them take charge of their reproductive health. This education empowers them to choose the right path to parenthood for their unique situation while potentially avoiding unnecessary treatments down the line.
What does whole-person preconception support look like?
Early risk identification
Regular screening for risk factors like high blood pressure, substance use, PCOS, and mental illness, can help identify reproductive risks before pregnancy. Individuals can be treated with a personalized care plan, supplemented by patient education and clinically-vetted content to increase health literacy and empower them to take control over their health.
A recent study found that fertility awareness among reproductive-age people is low to moderate, suggesting that aspiring parents need more education in this area. To meet this need, innovative companies have started creating wearables and at-home testing kits to help people better understand their fertility. For example, Maven partners with Ava and Legacy to help members identify and treat the underlying causes of infertility. Ava, a fertility tracking wearable, helps improve the chances of conception for people with uteruses through ovulation tracking. Ava is able to detect more fertile days than LH tests, leading to nearly 30% of sub-fertile women reporting a pregnancy within one year of using the device. For people with sperm, Legacy provides access to at-home sperm testing kits and options for preservation. Their discreet, easy-to-use tests empower people to learn more about their fertility, with results available online in two days.
Mental health support
Fertility treatments and the experience of infertility can strain the mental health of your employees. Pursuing fertility treatments, for example, is associated with high levels of anxiety and depression, and studies show that 50% of women and 15% of men rank infertility as the most upsetting experience of their lives. Providing resources like virtual access to therapists who have experience with people undergoing fertility treatments can help employees better understand and address mental health concerns that may arise before, during, and after pregnancy.
How does whole-person care empower people?
At its core, whole-person care recognizes that achieving health is more than just treating symptoms. When patients understand all the factors that may affect their ability to conceive, they are empowered to take charge of their journey and advocate for the right care for their unique needs.
How employers can support preconception care
Employers, as the gatekeepers to healthcare for almost 50% of the population, play a significant role in the kind of care their employees receive. As costs and complications related to fertility and childbirth rise, it’s more important than ever for companies to provide their employees with solutions that improve outcomes for families, including in the preconception stage.
Removing barriers to accessing care
While employers can’t control the availability of in-person care for remote or international employees, they can provide access to comprehensive virtual care. Virtual care can also ensure that all employees have equal access to benefits and allows them to meet with a provider on their schedule without leaving the comfort of their home. By investing in digital-first solutions, companies can ensure that their employees are receiving high-quality care when they need it, regardless of their physical location.
Supporting all paths to parenthood
Not all families look the same, and companies need to ensure that all employees can access preconception care that’s relevant to and conscious of their path to parenthood. Solutions should offer resources that address the unique needs of LBGTQIA+ families, as well as single parents by choice. These resources could include offering a virtual care platform with LGBTQIA+ providers and providing access to adoption and surrogacy specialists.
Onboarding vendors who provide whole-person care
When vetting vendors to supplement traditional healthcare benefits, employers should prioritize solutions that offer whole-person care to employees and support all paths to parenthood. Look for comprehensive, clinically-backed solutions that offer virtual care, access to mental health professionals and fertility specialists, partnerships with trusted vendors that provide fertility tracking and testing resources, and personalized care plans for all employees.
As you look to support your team from preconception to parenthood, Maven Clinic is here to help. Maven is the largest virtual clinic for women’s and family health, designed to support members through every stage of planning, raising, and growing a family. Interested in learning more? Book a meeting today.
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