The March of Dimes North Carolina Preconception Health Campaign is a statewide initiative aimed at improving birth outcomes in North Carolina by reaching out to women with important health messages before they become pregnant.

The Campaign formerly functioned as the North Carolina Folic Acid Campaign, a nationally recognized, award-winning campaign created to improve infant and maternal health by promoting the benefits and consumption of folic acid.

Our former campaign was designed to reduce the occurrence of neural tube defects (NTDs) in newborn children by encouraging women of childbearing age to take a multivitamin containing 400 mcg of folic acid every day. While we still carry the folic acid message with us wherever we go, we’ve added new messages and new initiatives under the larger umbrella of preconception health.

The goals of the March of Dimes North Carolina Preconception Health Campaign (NCPHC) are to reduce infant mortality, birth defects, premature birth, and chronic health conditions in women, while also aiming to increase intended pregnancies in North Carolina. To do this we must improve women’s wellness, improve reproductive outcomes, and reduce health disparities.

In order to achieve our mission the NCPHC seeks to raise awareness and inspire positive action among the general public, health care professionals and community agencies through a fully integrated educational and media campaign.

Some of our innovative initiatives include:

  • The Community Ambassador Program: Regional coordinators train women across the state to be community health educators. These women can help increase awareness and influence attitudes through community venues and personal networks. To reach North Carolina’s growing Latino population, a culturally-modified version of this program is also conducted in Spanish.
  • The Office Champion Program: Because 86 percent of women who do not take vitamins say they would do so upon the recommendation of their health care provider, the Campaign developed a health care provider education initiative that creates a peer point person in physician practices. This program has recently expanded to include other preconception health messages, like healthy weight.
  • Latino Campaign: Latina women are twice as likely as the general population to have babies born with NTDs. The NCPHC has special programs dedicated to Latina outreach to promote folic acid and has created special programs and advertising in Spanish using culturally relevant messages.
  • Media and Materials: Using a variety of media, the NCPHC has developed a series of effective campaigns touting the benefits of folic acid and preconception health to the general public. We offer free educational materials to anyone in North Carolina.

What is preconception health?

There are 1.8 million women of childbearing age in North Carolina. They are our mothers, our sisters, our aunts, our friends, and our neighbors. They play a crucial role in our communities as parents and caretakers. They work in our schools, our offices, our factories, our hospitals and our restaurants. In most families, they serve as the gatekeepers for healthy living. So not only is the health of these women inextricably linked to the health of their babies, it has a direct impact on the health of their families.

It is time to take a fresh approach to reducing infant mortality by improving the health of these women during their childbearing years. Preconception health offers a new perspective on an old problem. This vision presents women being healthy as a desirable end in itself and not just as an important way to improve the health of their babies. Preconception health helps women think about how their behaviors, lifestyles, and medical conditions affect their ability to live healthy lives and to have healthy children. It gives them the opportunity to be assessed for risks, to be counseled about healthy living, and to be offered treatment as needed.

Preconception health is a woman’s health before she becomes pregnant. It means knowing how health conditions and risk factors could affect a woman or her unborn baby if she becomes pregnant. You may also hear preconception health being called preconceptional health, preconception care, preconception health care and pre-pregnancy health.

Preconception health is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as interventions that aim to identify and modify biomedical, behavioral, and social risks to a woman’s health or pregnancy outcome through prevention and management. It emphasizes those factors that must be acted on either before conception or early in pregnancy to have the greatest impact. The fundamental elements of preconception care include screening for medical and social risk factors, providing health education, and delivering effective treatment or prevention plans.

Investing our resources and energy in preconception health is vital to North Carolina’s future. Better preconception health improves the overall health of women and babies, decreases health disparities, improves our health care system, and decreases costs to families and society.

The purpose of Every Woman North Carolina is to provide preconception health education, tools and messages to the general public, health care providers and public health administrators. Everyone is welcome to use this site for information and resources.

Content courtesy of the “North Carolina Preconception Health Strategic Plan” from the Women’s Health Branch, Division of Public Health, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The original document can be found here.