Chapter 2 Infographic: Preconception health

The health of parents prior to conception establishes the foundation for their new child’s health throughout his or her life. The goals for preconception care are to improve the health status of women and men before conception and to reduce those behaviours and individual and environmental factors that could contribute to poor maternal and child health outcomes.

  • Estimated that half of pregnancies are unplanned
  • 23% of women aged 20 to 34 smoke
  • 8% of women have low serum ferritin concentrations
  • 73% of women consume alcohol
  • 16% of women aged 20 to 29 smoke marijuana
  • Obesity rates have more than doubled in the past 10 years; 16% of women aged 25 to 34 are obese and 22% are overweight
  • 58% of women take folic acid prior to pregnancy


  • 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity for adults aged 64 and under.
  • No more than 2 drinks per day on most days, with no more than 10 drinks per week for non-pregnant women to reduce long term health risks.
  • All women who could become pregnant should take a daily multivitamin containing 400 mcg (0.4 mg) of folic acid.

Folic acid

Folic acid reduces the risk of neural tube defects, including anencephaly and spina bifida. Evidence also suggests that supplementation with folic acid is associated with lower risk for other birth defects including cleft palate anomalies, cardiovascular and urinary anomalies, and some pediatric cancers.

Mental Health

Maternal depression and anxiety has adverse effects on outcomes such as premature birth, birth-weight, breastfeeding initiation, and cognitive and emotional development of infants and young children.


Immunization prior to pregnancy can prevent adverse pregnancy outcomes, prevent infections from being transmitted to the fetus and provide protection during early infancy.


Healthy eating is a key component to overall health, and the preconception period is an ideal time for women to improve their diet. Nutritional needs change in pregnancy, and a pre-existing pattern of healthy eating helps to optimize maternal and fetal health.

Healthy Body Weight

Both low and high preconception Body Mass Index (BMI) can negatively affect pregnancy outcomes. The preconception period is the ideal time to achieve (or progress towards) an optimal weight.

Physical Activity

Exercise contributes to overall health, decreasing the risk of chronic conditions, important for weight reduction and maintenance, and has a positive effect on mental health and well-being.    


Quitting smoking during the preconception period can eliminate most of the negative impacts on future pregnancies, in addition to providing health benefits for the woman.

Environmental Hazards

A person’s environment includes their home, community, workplace, and other places where exposure to potential chemical and physical hazards may occur. The health impacts of preconception exposure to toxins are complex and difficult to verify.

For references consult Chapter 2: Preconception Care in: Public Health Agency of Canada. Family-Centred Maternity and Newborn Care: National Guidelines. Ottawa (ON): PHAC; 2017.

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