Biotechnology

New mothers and fathers are not ready to become parents because of government health

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Mothers and fathers-to-be are failing as the UK Government’s “outdated” public health plan leaves them unprepared for parenthood, a new report warns.

  • The UK Government’s “outdated” public health messages leave new parents in the dark about what to expect after giving birth
  • Some parents still smoke or drink alcohol in early pregnancy, the Children’s Alliance warns
  • Frontline medical staff are not delivering key public health messages about pregnancy, the authors say

Mothers and fathers-to-be are failing as the UK Government’s “outdated” public health plan leaves them unprepared for parenthood, a new report warns.

A review by the Children’s Alliance, with the University of Southampton, found that women and men are unaware of how badly personal health can affect their babies’ early development – with many being overweight and still smoking or drinking alcohol in early pregnancy.

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

The report’s authors are now calling for preconception care in the UK – which supports women before they become pregnant and become parents – to be included at all stages of the Government’s health strategy.

Lead author Helen Clark of the Children’s Alliance said improving preconception care would leave a valuable legacy for any political party that includes it in their election manifestos.

She added: “Research has shown us that parents who practice 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 saw recently from the Office for National Statistics, two and a half million people are out of work because of health problems.

“Throwing money on outdated public health policies is not going to work. Improving preconception care is a smart 21st century approach for the NHS to take – indeed a ‘revolution’ that will cut future waiting lists and won’t break the bank either.”

The new Preconception Care Strategy was co-created by the Children’s Alliance together with health professionals and academics at several UK universities, including Southampton, to improve life chances for children.

The data highlighted in this study reveal mass inequality among rich and disadvantaged families – with 24 per cent of stillbirths being caused by socioeconomic deprivation.

As many as nine out of 10 women in the UK enter a period of pregnancy with at least one indicator that endangers the health of the child, while only 27 per cent of mothers take folic acid before becoming pregnant. Other results show:

  • Women from black ethnic backgrounds in the UK are one and a half times more likely to enter into pregnancy obese than white women,
  • People from low-income families are three times more likely to have smoked at the time of conception,
  • Women living in disadvantaged areas are almost twice as likely to have a pre-existing mental health condition.

University of Southampton Professor Keith Godfrey, from the National Institute for Health Research Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, was the main contributor to the report and said: “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 critical to increasing opportunities for children and can help overcome differences in their health. However, preconception care remains undervalued in the UK and Government health policies have either failed to assist people of reproductive age or it is too late for women to enter maternity care.”

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


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