The clinical content of preconception care: care of psychosocial stressors

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Dec;199(6 Suppl 2):S362-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2008.08.042.


In the period before conceiving, many women are under considerable psychosocial stress, which may affect their ability to conceive and to carry a pregnancy successfully to term. Thus, health care providers who interact with women in the preconception and interconception period should ask their patients about possible psychosocial risks. It is no longer sufficient to wait until the woman mentions a problem or seeks advice; the provider must be proactive, because many women do not realize the potential impact of stressors on their pregnancy outcomes nor are they always aware that their provider is interested in their psychosocial as well as their physical health. An income that puts women below or near the federal poverty level is one such stress. If a woman's economic situation can be improved before the pregnancy, she is more likely to be healthy after conception, because increased income can reduce financial stress, improve food security, and improve well-being in other ways. Therefore, all women should be asked about their economic status and those who appear to be struggling financially should be referred to an agency that can check their eligibility for various types of financial assistance. Many women of childbearing age have difficulty accessing the primary care services needed for preconception care. Usually this is due to lack of insurance, but it may also be caused by living in an area with an insufficient number of providers. Certainly all women who are uninsured, and possible many who are on Medicaid and have difficulty finding providers who will accept Medicaid, have access problems. All women should be asked about their health insurance coverage and their usual source of care. If they do not have health insurance, they should be referred to an agency that can determine their eligibility. If they do not have a usual source of care, one should be established that will accept their insurance coverage or provide care free of charge or on a sliding fee basis. Intimate partner violence, sexual violence outside of an intimate relationship (usually rape), and maltreatment (abuse or neglect) as a child or adolescent place a woman at elevated risk during a pregnancy, as well as having possible adverse impacts on the fetus, the infant, and the child. Studies show that women believe it is appropriate for health care providers to ask about interpersonal violence, but that they will not report it spontaneously. Therefore, screening for ongoing and historical interpersonal violence, sexual violence, and child maltreatment should be incorporated into routine care by all health care providers.

MeSH terms

  • Domestic Violence*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Preconception Care*
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress, Psychological* / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological* / economics
  • Stress, Psychological* / therapy