Objectives: Preconception care is important for the screening, prevention and management of risk factors that affect pregnancy outcomes. We aimed to investigate pre-pregnancy care policies, guidelines, recommendations and services in six European countries.
Methods: In 2013, an electronic search and investigation was undertaken of preconception policy, guidelines, recommendations and services available to healthcare professionals and the general public in six European countries: Belgium (Flanders), Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Findings were compared within five categories: Governmental policy and legislation; Professional bodies and organisations; Healthcare providers; Charitable organisations; Web-based public information and internet sites.
Results: All countries had preconception recommendations for women with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and epilepsy. Recommendations for healthy women and men were fragmented and inconsistent. Preconception guidance was often included in antenatal and pregnancy guidelines. Differences between countries were seen with regard to nutritional and lifestyle advice particularly in relation to fish, caffeine and alcohol consumption, and vitamin supplementation.
Conclusions: Current guidelines are heterogeneous. Collaborative research across Europe is required in order to develop evidence-based guidelines for preconception health and care. There is a need to establish a clear strategy for promoting advice and guidance within the European childbearing population.
Keywords: Europe; Guidelines; Policy; Pre-pregnancy health and care; Preconception care; Pregnancy.