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The Importance of Prenatal Care for Maternal and Infant Health

Photo: Courtesy of Alex Hockett on Unsplash

As a public health and primary care physician, I find it troubling that across our nation, virtually every measure of the health of pregnant women, new mothers, and infants is going in the wrong direction.

According to the latest statistics, about 1 in 10 babies is born too soon (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) each year. Premature birth and its complications are the largest contributors to death in the first year of life for babies in the United States and the leading cause of death of children under age 5 worldwide.

Maternal and infant health

The state of maternal health mirrors that of infants born too soon. Every 12 hours in the United States, a woman dies from pregnancy complications. For every maternal death, another 70 women suffer life-threatening health challenges. These startling statistics make the United States one of the most dangerous places in the developed world to give birth.

Historically, maternal and infant health has served as a barometer for civilizations. To save the lives and the health of moms and babies, our nation needs more robust health policies, better access to quality care for women, and greater support for women before, during, and after pregnancy. One way to achieve these goals is by expanding proven programs and innovative solutions such as group prenatal care.

The importance of prenatal care

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics state that group prenatal care can improve the health of pregnant women and babies, reduce prematurity, and provide greater patient satisfaction with their care services.

Group prenatal care matches pregnant women with similar due dates together in small groups for prenatal care. Unlike traditional one-on-one care, sessions usually last two hours, during which women receive a physical assessment, share support with each other, and gain knowledge and skills related to pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. Sessions are typically offered in hospitals or community centers, and participant costs are covered by most insurance and Medicaid in most states.

March of Dimes

When compared to women receiving individual prenatal care, participants in a form of group care called March of Dimes Supportive Pregnancy Care (SPC) were 68 percent more likely to attend their postpartum visits, 84 percent more likely to initiate breastfeeding at delivery, and almost three times as likely to still breastfeed at the time of their postpartum visit. Postpartum visits and breastfeeding are proven methods to promote the health of the baby and mother.

Today, March of Dimes has more than 40 SPC sites in various stages of implementation in 19 states across the country. It is critical that we deepen our investments in programs such as SPC in order to deliver integrated, evidence-based, and cost-effective care for mothers and babies during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. Learn more about best practices in prenatal care and other ways to improve the health of America’s moms and babies by visiting www.marchofdimes.org.

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