New parents have been left unprepared due to UK government health concerns, the report warns

Mothers and fathers have been left unprepared for parenthood by government health failures. Credit: University of Southampton

Expectant mothers and fathers are being let down by the UK government’s outdated public health plans, leaving them unprepared for parenthood, a new report warns.

The research by Children’s Alliance, together with the University of Southampton, found that women and men are unaware of how poor personal health can affect their babies’ early development – being very overweight and still smoking or drinking in early pregnancy .

Findings also show that public health messages about preparing for pregnancy and protecting babies before birth are often overlooked by frontline professionals and not taught in the national school curriculum.

The report’s authors are now calling for preconception care in the UK – which supports women ahead of pregnancy and parenthood – to be included at all stages of the government’s health strategy.

Lead author Helen Clark of Children’s Alliance said solving preconception care would leave a worthy legacy for any political party that includes it in their election manifesto.

She added: “Studies have shown us that parents who observe good health before and during pregnancy give their children the best start in life and are more likely to grow up healthier. Poor health costs money and, as we recently reported from the Office of National Statistics, 2.5 million people are not working due to health problems.

“Throwing money at outdated public health policies will not work. Improving preconception care is the smart 21st century approach the NHS should take – indeed a revolution that will reduce future waiting lists and not go out of business either.”

The new strategy for preconception care has been jointly developed by Children’s Alliance with health professionals and academics from several UK universities, including Southampton, to improve children’s life chances.

Data emerging in the study revealed massive disparities among both wealthy and underprivileged families – with 24% of stillbirths due to socioeconomic deprivation.

As many as nine in ten women in England embark on a pregnancy with at least one indicator putting the child’s health at risk, while only 27% of mothers take folic acid before becoming pregnant. Other results showed:

  • Women of black ethnic background in England are one and a half times more likely to become pregnant with obesity compared to white women,
  • People from low-income families are three times more likely to smoke at the time of conception,
  • Women living in underserved areas are almost twice as likely to have a pre-existing mental illness.

Professor Keith Godfrey of the University of Southampton, of the National Institute for Health Research Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, made a key contribution to the report, saying: “A child’s first 1,000 days are an integral part of their lifelong physical and mental health , development and resilience.”

“Preparing for parenthood is crucial to increasing opportunities for children and can help tackle health inequalities. However, preconception care remains undervalued in the UK and government health policies have failed to help people of childbearing age or are overdue enter maternity care for women.”

The report’s authors have published a five-point action plan for government and health officials to improve the health of expectant parents.

Five point action plan:

The authors have published an action plan for government officials to improve the health of expectant parents. It includes:

  1. Making preconception care available to everyone in the UK – to tackle growing inequality,
  2. Encourage GPs, maternity care and family centers to normalize preconception care – to improve pregnancy and postnatal care,
  3. Add preconception care to the curriculum to teach students the importance of a healthy pregnancy,
  4. Move preconception care to related health policies targeting obesity and weight management, alcohol and smoking,
  5. Encourage major organisations, including the NHS, to give staff access to medical or health and welfare professionals before conception.

More information:
The report is titled “The strategy for preconception care”.

Offered by the University of Southampton

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New parents have been left unprepared due to UK government health concerns, the report warns

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