State aims to improve women's reproductive health before pregnancy

Published June 2, 2010 11:46 am
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To improve Utah children's health, the state health department has launched a campaign to help their mothers thrive.

Called "Power Your Life, Power Your Health," the push recommends a range of health strategies, from taking folic acid to reducing stress to choosing birth control.

It's geared toward 18- to 25-year-olds, the group that appears to be the most in need of help planning their pregnancies and taking charge of their health.

Many young women, "having relied on their mothers all their lives for maintaining health checkups and eating correctly, they leave home and they're struggling with being able to assume that responsibility for themselves," said Lois Bloebaum, who oversees the health department's Maternal & Infant Health Program.

Focus groups also revealed young women hunger for information about fertility, Bloebaum said. Many mentioned they didn't learn about it in school. The campaign's Web page, http://www.poweryourlife.org, includes comparisons of birth control options and an explanation of the menstrual cycle.

"Having a baby is a wonderful blessing, especially if it happens when you want it to," the birth control pamphlet says.

Funded by a $1 million grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, the emphasis on is improving health before conception, instead of during pregnancy.

Prenatal care is too late, Bloebaum says. For example, neural tube defects like spina bifida — which is on the rise in Utah — occur during the first few weeks after conception. They can be avoided by taking a vitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid. But many women start taking prenatal vitamins weeks after they become pregnant.

Health department data show three out of five Utah women of childbearing age don't take supplements with folic acid, and 90 percent don't realize it is needed for fetal development.

The health department is gearing some of its effort to racial and ethnic minorities, who have a higher than average rate of unplanned pregnancies — 50 percent instead of 30 percent statewide — and have higher rates of babies born prematurely and at a low birth weight.

Isabel Rojas, program director of Comunidades Unidas, which works with immigrants on health care issues, said Latinas need and want the information; her organization offers Spanish-language prenatal classes. But she wonders if they will be interested before pregnancy.

"If they are pregnant, they see it as an immediate need," she said.

The state campaign also emphasizes planning pregnancies, suggesting women should wait at least 18 months to 24 months before having another baby. A pamphlet urges women to consider whether their family can afford another child, whether they are ready for another child and can give it the attention it needs, and how their existing children will handle an addition.

Bloebaum doesn't expect the message to be controversial, noting the target audience are adults. "This is just very basic concrete information," she said. "Young women are crying [out] for it."


Folic acid freebies

Up to 10,000 women of childbearing age can get a free 90-day supply of multivitamins with folic acid by signing up at poweryourlife.org. —

Women and health

The health department's campaign to improve women's health before conception will include public service announcements, a website, social media, a magazine, a conference for health care providers and information booths at community events, including:

Juneteenth 2010, Ogden, June 18-20;

Heber Valley Powwow, Midway, June 18-20;

CARE Fair Junior League, Salt Lake City, July 9-10;

Samoan Cultural Celebration, West Valley City, July 14-17;

Native American Festival, Salt Lake City, July 24.

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