Introduction: There is increasingly a double burden of under-nutrition and obesity in women of reproductive age. Preconception underweight or overweight, short stature and micronutrient deficiencies all contribute to excess maternal and fetal complications during pregnancy.
Methods: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the evidence was conducted to ascertain the possible impact of preconception care for adolescents, women and couples of reproductive age on maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) outcomes. A comprehensive strategy was used to search electronic reference libraries, and both observational and clinical controlled trials were included. Cross-referencing and a separate search strategy for each preconception risk and intervention ensured wider study capture.
Results: Maternal pre-pregnancy weight is a significant factor in the preconception period with underweight contributing to a 32% higher risk of preterm birth, and obesity more than doubling the risk for preeclampsia, gestational diabetes. Overweight women are more likely to undergo a Cesarean delivery, and their newborns have higher chances of being born with a neural tube or congenital heart defect. Among nutrition-specific interventions, preconception folic acid supplementation has the strongest evidence of effect, preventing 69% of recurrent neural tube defects. Multiple micronutrient supplementation shows promise to reduce the rates of congenital anomalies and risk of preeclampsia. Although over 40% of women worldwide are anemic in the preconception period, only one study has shown a risk for low birth weight.
Conclusion: All women, but especially those who become pregnant in adolescence or have closely-spaced pregnancies (inter-pregnancy interval less than six months), require nutritional assessment and appropriate intervention in the preconception period with an emphasis on optimizing maternal body mass index and micronutrient reserves. Increasing coverage of nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive strategies (such as food fortification; integration of nutrition initiatives with other maternal and child health interventions; and community based platforms) is necessary among adolescent girls and women of reproductive age. The effectiveness of interventions will need to be simultaneously monitored, and form the basis for the development of improved delivery strategies and new nutritional interventions.