Birth outcomes depend on a healthy lifestyle before and during pregnancy. By the time a woman knows she is pregnant and goes to her doctor for prenatal care, it may be too late to make changes that increase the likelihood that the birth will result in a healthy baby. For this reason, the Allegheny County Health Department Child Death Review Team and UPMC McKeesport, Shadyside and St. Margaret Family Health Centers have joined other family health centers from the northeastern United States to develop strategies for improving birth outcomes. Their newest strategy is the Inter-Conception Care (ICC) project.
The inter-conception period refers to the time between pregnancies—after the birth of one child and before the birth of another child. During this time, new mothers are busy. They may feel like they don’t have time to get regular check-ups. This means that new mothers may not be getting the health care they need.
Although new mothers may not seek health care for themselves, they do take their babies to the doctor for regular check-ups. The ICC project uses the baby’s check-up to make sure that both the mother and baby are healthy. Doctors involved in the ICC project take time at the baby’s check-up to screen mothers for specific health risks. These risks include smoking, depression, birth spacing, taking a daily multivitamin that contains folic acid and practicing safe-baby sleep habits.
These five health risks were included in the ICC project because research shows that these risks can negatively affect families and future pregnancies. By identifying and addressing these risks, doctors hope to improve family health and reduce prematurity and low birth weight in future pregnancies. Also, doctors can assess mothers for these health risks quickly—the screening usually takes less than two minutes.
As mothers return to their children’s doctor, the doctors re-screen the mothers for these health risks. This happens each time a mother takes her child to check-ups, from the time the child is born until the child is 2 years old. This check-up allows doctors to monitor a mother’s health risks and get her the care she needs to lead a healthy life.
The ICC project began at UPMC Family Health Centers in 2012. As of December 2012, the three health centers were collecting data on almost 130 mothers. Throughout the next several years, UPMC Family Health Centers and their partners will collect and analyze data about the project. The findings will help determine how well the ICC project identifies and addresses these health risks in mothers. The health centers plan to use this information to refine and improve the project over time.
The goal of UPMC Family Health Centers and their partners, including the Allegheny County Health Department, is to develop a brief model of maternal care that can be used in other primary care clinics. For more information about the ICC project in Pittsburgh, please contact the project principal investigator, Lisa Schlar, MD, UPMC Shadyside Family Health Center, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-623-2287.