Since the 1980s, maternal and child health experts have sought to redefine maternity care to include the period prior to pregnancy, essentially by expanding the concept of prenatal care to encompass the time before conception. In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed and promoted this new definition when it launched the Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative. In arguing that prenatal care was often too little too late, a group of maternal and child health experts in the United States attempted to spur improvements in population health and address systemic problems in health care access and health disparities. By changing the terms of pregnancy risk and by using maternalism as a social policy strategy, the preconception health and health care paradigm promoted an ethic of anticipatory motherhood and conflated women's health with maternal health, sparking public debate about the potential social and clinical consequences of preconception care. This article tracks the construction of this policy idea and its ultimate potential utility in health and health policy discussions.

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