A new consensus statement places renewed focus on maternal interpregnancy care, with a goal of extending care past the postpartum period to provide a wellness-maximizing continuum of care.
The document, developed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM), recognizes that pregnancy is part of the lifelong continuum of health and wellness. Although not all women will go on to have another pregnancy, the concept of interpregnancy care recognizes that ob.gyns. have a vital role that extends past the postpartum period.
“This is a shift in what we used to think was our job. We used to think that our job ended when the baby came out,” said the first author of the obstetric care consensus statement,an ob.gyn. faculty member at the University of South Florida, Tampa, and a SMFM board member. “For too long, our focus was just the baby; we need to tell women, ‘You’re important too,’ ” she said in an interview.
“The interpregnancy period is an opportunity to address these complications of medical issues that have developed during pregnancy, to assess a woman’s mental and physical well-being, and to optimize her health along her life course,” Dr. Louis and her coauthors wrote in.
Conceptually, the opportunity for interpregnancy care arises after any pregnancy, no matter the outcome, and is part of the continuum of care for women of reproductive age. For women who do not intend a future pregnancy, well-woman care is the focus, while women who currently intend to become pregnant again receive interpregnancy care. Women may move from one arm of the continuum to the other if their intentions change or if they become pregnant, explained Dr. Louis and her coauthors.
The new consensus document includes an emphasis on long-term health outcomes as well as maternal and neonatal outcomes in future pregnancies. Although the evidence is of no more than moderate quality, women should be advised to have an interpregnancy interval of at least 6 months and offered counseling about family planning before delivery. Risks and benefits of an interpregnancy interval of less than 18 months should be reviewed as well.
For women with a history of preterm birth and those who have had a prior cesarean delivery and desire a subsequent trial of labor, birth spacing is particularly important, noted Dr. Louis and her colleagues. There is higher-risk evidence for uterine rupture after cesarean delivery if delivery-to-delivery intervals are 18-24 months or less.
Recommendations regarding the length of the interpregnancy interval generally should not be affected by a history of prior infertility.
High-quality evidence supports breast feeding’s salutary effects on maternal and child health, so women should receive anticipatory support and guidance to enable breastfeeding, according to the document.
In accordance with other guidelines, the document recommends that all women be screened for depression post partum and as part of well-woman care in the interpregnancy interval. Procedures for effective diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up should accompany the screening.
Best practices dictate that women are asked about alcohol, prescription, and nonprescription drug use as a routine matter. High-quality evidence supports offering smoking cessation support to women who smoke and giving specific advice about nutrition and physical activity that’s based on “proven behavioral techniques.”
Evidence is of moderate quality that women should be encouraged to reach their prepregnancy weight by a year after delivery, with the ultimate goal of having a body mass index of 18.5-24.9.
High-quality evidence backs encouragement to engage in safe sex practices, with care providers also advised to facilitate partner screening and treatment for STIs.
Screening for STIs should follow guidance put forward by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and should be offered to women at high risk for STIs; those with a history of STI should have a careful history taken to determine risks for current or repeat infections, wrote Dr. Louis and her coauthors. These strong recommendations have high-quality evidence behind them.
The consensus statement recommends screening women for intimate partner violence, with moderate-quality evidence to support the recommendation. Patient navigators, expert medical interpretation, and other health educators can be offered to women with health literacy or language and communication challenges, but the evidence backing the recommendation is of low quality.
A subset of the interpregnancy care recommendations gives additional guidance regarding women with a history of high-risk pregnancy. All women planning pregnancy – or who could become pregnant – should take 500 mcg of folic acid daily beginning 1 month before fertilization and continuing through the 12th week of pregnancy. Folic acid supplementation for women who have had children with neural tube defects should begin at least 3 months before fertilization and continue through 12 weeks of pregnancy, at a dose of 400 mg.
All prescription and nonprescription medications, as well as potential environmental teratogens, should be reviewed before a repeat pregnancy. This, as well as the folic acid recommendations, are strong recommendations backed by high-quality evidence.
When appropriate, genetic counseling should be offered to women who have had prior pregnancies with genetic disorders or congenital anomalies. Asymptomatic genitourinary infections should not be treated in women with a history of preterm birth during the interpregnancy interval. These are strong recommendations, but are backed by low to moderate quality evidence, wrote Dr. Louis and her colleagues.
Another section of the consensus document specifically addresses specific health conditions, including diabetes, gestational diabetes, gestational and chronic hypertension, and preeclampsia, as well as mental health disorders and overweight or obesity.
For each, Dr. Louis and her coauthors recommend counseling that reviews complications and risk for future disease; for example, not only does prior preeclampsia increase risk for that complication in future pregnancies, risk for later cardiovascular disease is also doubled. The document outlines recommended interpregnancy testing, management considerations and medications of concern for health care providers caring for women with these conditions, and condition-specific goals.
Of the association between gestational diabetes, hypertension, and preeclampsia with later disease, Dr. Louis said in the interview, “We don’t know. ... It may be that pregnancy accelerates these diseases. We do know that normal changes in pregnancy stress your body, and that preeclampsia damages your vessels. Pregnancy can give you a warning, but we don’t have enough information to predict the outcome” in later life. “We do know there is some advice we can give: stop smoking and maintain a normal body weight.”
Other conditions such as HIV, renal disease, epilepsy, autoimmune and thyroid disease, and thrombophilias and antiphospholipid antibody syndrome are also addressed in this section of the consensus document.
Specific attention also is given to psychosocial risks, such as socioeconomic disadvantages and being a member of a racial or ethnic minority. Social determinants of health are complex, said Dr. Louis, but socioeconomic and racial stressors can include the added burden of caring for loved ones with constrained resources. Additionally, there can be access issues: Women can get emergent care by presenting to the ED but receiving continued primary and specialty care can be much more of a challenge.
Regarding racism, Dr. Louis said, “We all come into caring for these women with certain ideas.” For example, it’s not enough to say of a patient, “She’s noncompliant. You need to ask why.” When the “why” question is asked, then you may discover, “there’s something you can help the patient with,” she said. “We need to ask why, and then take steps to help our patients.”