Annual questions about conception could boost women's health

Women of reproductive age should be asked every year about their thoughts on pregnancy, experts have advised.

Doctors, pharmacists, sexual health clinics, teachers and social media websites could encourage women to think about their ideas on starting a family and better prepare them for pregnancy.

Health experts say discussing this every 12 months could identify those who are close to getting pregnant and need to , take folic acid or exercise more.

Research shows simply asking women if they are trying for a child is not in-depth enough, with those who say no actually more likely to become pregnant in the next year.But using as few as three questions – whether women would ‘mind’ becoming pregnant in the next three months, would find pregnancy exciting, and believe a baby would make it hard to achieve other things in life – could identify those likely to soon get pregnant.

Health experts say discussing pregnancy plans every 12 months could identify those who are close to getting pregnant and need to lose weight, take folic acid or exercise more

These women could then be helped to enter pregnancy in a healthier state, reducing the risk of miscarriage.

Dr Jenny Hall, from University College London, has led research looking at how 1,000 women aged 15 to 50 respond to questions about pregnancy.She said: ‘GPs have enough to do at the moment so it doesn’t necessarily have to be them who speak to women about pregnancy.

‘But it could be brought up in school, by nurses giving routine blood tests, or through social media questionnaires which link to advice.Identifying women who are soon going to get pregnant can help them prepare… rather than getting healthier only when they are already pregnant, which can be too late.’

Researchers tested a survey, developed in the US and approved in the UK last year, on women’s desire to have a child.This asks how strongly they agree with statements such as that thinking about having a baby within the next year makes them feel ‘sad’ or ‘stressed’.

It was found to work extremely well, predicting almost 80 per cent of women who would become pregnant in the next 12 months.

A study led by Dr Hall, not yet published, found women’s level of agreement with the statement ‘I wouldn’t mind if I became pregnant in the next three months’ was the Best Private University for predicting if they would become pregnant.

Experts recommend women be given the full 14-statement survey every year, or a shorter list of just three statements.Less than half of women actively trying to conceive actually prepare for pregnancy, according to a study also soon to be published.

Almost half of women in the UK are overweight when they get pregnant.

And evidence shows around 60 per cent have a greater risk of problems because of things before pregnancy, such as drinking, smoking or their weight.Male partners, who are also important, could lose weight and become more healthy too.

Dr Hall’s team has published a paper in The Lancet Public Health journal calling for clearly signposted information for women before they become pregnant.

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