We have likely all heard the hype concerning the increase of sexually transmitted infections across the U.S. According to the Huffington Post, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis rates are at an all-time high. In 2014 chlamydia cases were high, but the rates have increased even more. A 6% increase in 2015 resulted in 1.5 million cases of chlamydia being reported. There were 395,000 cases of gonorrhea in 2015 which is up 13% from 2014, and at 24,000 cases, syphilis is up 19% from 2014 (Huffington Post, 2016). Local health departments can provide services to individuals to address these issues, but education is still a top concern for many communities.
But what does this mean for pregnant women?
Many may be unaware of the fact that rates of congenital syphilis ― when a pregnant woman passes the infection on to her baby ― have also increased. Congenital syphilis, which can result in pregnancy loss as well as bone deformations, blindness and deafness in newborns have increased by six percent (Huffington Post, 2016). Women who are pregnant can become infected with the same STDs as women who are not pregnant so for a healthier pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests women ask their doctor about STD testing.
Early prenatal care is essential to having a healthy pregnancy but nearly 50% of all pregnancies are unintended. Therefore, counseling women BEFORE they become pregnant about the connections between their current health risks and future birth outcomes is vital. Much of a fetus’s structural development occurs in the early stages, and the health choices of the mother in beginning weeks can affect the risks of birth defects. Unfortunately, most women do not get into prenatal care until most the fetus development is complete (North Carolina Preconception Health Campaign).
So where’s the support?
March of Dimes supports preconception health efforts across the nation and here in North Carolina, the efforts are in full swing with North Carolina Preconception Health Campaign. Efforts through the Campaign promote preconception health in all women to include men and emphasize the importance of yearly exams and self-care prior to pregnancy. The Campaign supports CDC’s recommendation of having a Reproductive Life Plan (RLP), including the encouragement to all men and women to have a reproductive life plan which is the first on the list. Reproductive life planning allows both men and women to evaluate the dreams, goals and aspirations to include being physically, emotionally and financially secure before pregnancy. A RLP considers the who, what, when, where, why and even “if” of family planning. Everyone should have a reproductive life plan, regardless if they want to have children or not (Every Woman NC).
Regional coordinators are working hard to provide education to providers through webinars and face-to-face trainings across the state. Coordinators are also educating the community through campaign developed curriculums for middle schoolers called “Healthy Squared: Now and Later” and high schoolers called “Healthy Before Pregnancy”. Our goal is to educate men and women on the importance of self-care and preconception health. For more information about our campaign, visit everywomannc.org/about. You can also learn more about your Regional Coordinators visit everywomannc.org/about/meet-the-coordinators.
Every Woman North Carolina (2017). “Reproductive Life Planning: What is reproductive life planning?” Retrieved from http://everywomannc.org/your-health/rlp/
March of Dimes North Carolina Preconception Health Campaign presentation (2014). “Reproductive Life Planning Strategies to help your patients plan ahead.”
The Huffington Post (2016). “Lifestyle Healthy Living Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis Rates Are At An All-Time High In The U.S.” Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/std-rates-in-the-us-rise_us_5807bcf6e4b0b994d4c36002