SAN DIEGO—PCI (www.pciglobal.org), an international health organization headquartered in San Diego, provides an array of free programs focused on improving women’s health and well-being during their reproductive years and across the life span. In recognition of National Women’s Health Week, May 14th to 20th, PCI celebrated its work for women and mothers in San Diego.
Women taking care of their health before becoming pregnant—also referred to as preconception care or pre-pregnancy care—may eliminate or reduce the risk of poor pregnancy outcomes for women and infants, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). This is particularly important for racial and ethnic minority populations, who experience disparities in pregnancy and birth outcomes.
In response, PCI recently launched the Preconception Care Coordination Collaborative (PC3 Project) with funding from March of Dimes. The PC3 Project aims to identify women who could possibly become pregnant, empower them with information on preconception health and pregnancy spacing, and work with them to develop individualized reproductive life goals and access tailored follow-on support.
“I learned from PCI’s class how to take care of myself during and after pregnancy, like waiting before getting pregnant again, preventing pregnancy, and staying away from chemical and cleaning products that are damaging when you are pregnant,” said Thalia Hernandez, age 29, a North Park resident and recent participant in the PC3 class. “There are so many things that people don’t know.”
About half of all pregnancies in San Diego are unintended, either unwanted or mistimed (when a woman wants to become pregnant at some point but not yet). Whether a woman is planning a pregnancy or not, she can improve the chances of a healthy pregnancy by taking care of her health and reducing potential maternal and fetal risks.
In San Diego County, birth defects are the number one cause of infant death, related to 26.9% of infant deaths in 2010-12 . Simple steps like taking 400mcg of folic acid daily in the months before conceiving can prevent some birth defects, such as spinal bifida and anencephaly, which occur in the first month after conception when many women do not yet realize they are pregnant 
Similarly, mothers who are obese or have diabetes at the time they become pregnant may have an increased chance of having a baby with several kinds of birth defects, including heart defects. If mothers can reduce body weight and maintain adequate glucose control prior to becoming pregnant, this can help prevent heart and other defects in their baby.
Ensuring that more women wait at least 18 months between giving birth and getting pregnant again can help prevent preterm birth, which affected about 8% of births in San Diego County in 2010-12 and 10% of infant deaths . Just under a third of births to San Diego women had a short (<18 months) interpregnancy interval in 2012 (28.4%, compared to 26.9% of births statewide).
PCI works with low income and minority women to pursue goals related to improving their health, life skills, financial savings or starting a business with a supportive circle of women around them. During pregnancy, PCI works intensively with women to improve their health, supports them through birth and breastfeeding, and helps them to guide and stimulate their child’s early development.
“All of PCI’s local programs have as a central goal to empower women to enhance their well-being and that of their families and communities, whether it be through the experience of becoming a parent or in any other area of their lives”, says Katherine Selchau, PCI’s local Director of Local Capacity Strengthening & Collective Impact.
Community members who are interested in making a difference for women’s health in San Diego are invited to join PCI’s Healthy Start Community Action Network (CAN). The CAN is an alliance of community members and agencies working to ensure healthy pregnancies, safe and empowering births, and nurturing parenting for all families in San Diego County, particularly among low income populations in central and southern regions of the county.
“Everyone can learn something new with PCI’s programs, no matter your age, they have trained people to help and especially to help us to take care of our kids,” said Ms. Hernandez. “Women don’t need to be afraid or depend on anyone. Educating yourself is part of being healthy.”
To enroll in the PC3 Project or other PCI projects, call (619) 791-2610 x316. Learn more about PCI and the Healthy Start CAN at www.pciglobal.org, or about preconception health at http://www.everywomancalifornia.org/index.cfm. For more information about National Women’s Health Week, visit www.womenshealth.gov/nwhw.
For further information please contact:
Katherine Selchau, PCI US and Border Programs
http://www.sandiegocounty.gov/content/dam/sdc/hhsa/programs/phs/documents/LeadingCausesofDeathXAgeGrp2012.pdf and http://www.sandiegocounty.gov/hhsa/programs/phs/documents/MchSt-InfMort-COD.pdf