Access to Prenatal Care: The Importance of Making it Accessible for All Pregnant Women

December 14, 2023 | 5 min read

Pregnancy is often a special time in a woman's life. However, it is also a critical period that requires comprehensive and accessible prenatal care to ensure the best possible outcomes for both mother and child. Unfortunately, the reality is that many women across the United States face significant barriers and challenges when it comes to accessing quality maternity care. These barriers can be especially pronounced for marginalized and vulnerable groups, including low-income individuals, rural residents, women of color, and those with pre-existing health conditions.

As a result, millions of women are not receiving the care and support they need during pregnancy and beyond. This lack of access to maternity care is not only detrimental to individual health outcomes but can also result in significant economic and societal costs. For instance, poor maternal and infant health can lead to increased healthcare expenditures, lost productivity, and intergenerational poverty.

Did you know? Inadequate prenatal care is a leading cause of adverse maternal and infant health outcomes. Learn more from @NEChildrensHomeClick To Tweet

In this blog, we will explore the importance of accessible maternal care and the critical role it plays in promoting healthy pregnancies and positive outcomes for both mother and child. Join us as we delve into this critical issue and work towards a future where every woman, regardless of her background or circumstances, has access to the maternity care she deserves.

Explore our thought-provoking infographic on maternity care deserts and the state of maternal care in Nebraska. Uncover the obstacles confronted by marginalized communities and their influence on health outcomes. Download it here now.

Prenatal Care: Beyond the Basics

Prenatal care is an essential element in ensuring a healthy pregnancy and a positive maternal and fetal outcome. The primary role of prenatal care is to provide support and education for expectant parents throughout their pregnancy journey. This involves providing expectant parents with relevant information, guidance, and resources to enable them to make informed choices about their pregnancy, birth, and parenting.

Apart from addressing the medical aspects of pregnancy, such as monitoring fetal development and identifying any potential complications, prenatal care also includes the nonmedical aspects of pregnancy. This encompasses addressing the emotional, social, and economic challenges that come with pregnancy. Mental health is a crucial aspect that is often neglected in prenatal care. Research shows that untreated maternal mental health disorders can negatively impact maternal and fetal health outcomes, including increased risk of postpartum depression, low birth weight, and preterm birth. Prenatal care should prioritize assessing and addressing mental health concerns alongside the medical aspects of pregnancy.

In the US, younger people, people of color, people with low incomes, and linguistic minorities are more likely to experience barriers to accessing prenatal care. According to the March of Dimes, approximately 5.6 million women live in counties with no or limited access to maternity care services, mainly in rural areas. The lack of access to adequate prenatal care can lead to adverse health outcomes for both the mother and the baby, including poor birth outcomes, maternal mortality, and morbidity.

Access to Maternity Care

Current Landscape

Despite the importance of prenatal care, access to maternal care remains an issue in the United States. According to another study from March of Dimes, inadequate prenatal care is a leading cause of adverse maternal and infant health outcomes.

🤰Maternity care deserts are a concerning reality, especially for marginalized communities. Learn more about the importance of accessible prenatal care for pregnant women in the blog from @NEChildrensHomeClick To Tweet

The March of Dimes' latest report confirms that access to maternal care continues to worsen, with a 4% drop in birthing hospitals since the previous report in 2018. The loss of obstetric units in hospitals contributes to decreased maternity care access in 369 counties across the country. Additionally, 70 additional counties have been deemed maternity care deserts due to a loss of obstetric providers and obstetric units in hospitals since 2018.

Maternity Care Deserts

Maternity care deserts are defined as areas with little to no access to healthcare facilities offering prenatal and postpartum care. These deserts disproportionately affect marginalized and vulnerable communities, including those living in rural areas, low-income families, and people of color. Women living in states with higher rural populations, such as North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Oklahoma, and Nebraska, are particularly impacted by maternity care deserts.

Factors contributing to the problem include the concentration of birthing hospitals in urban areas, a decline in the number of obstetric providers, and a lack of investment in maternal care services. These deserts pose a significant challenge to pregnant people, who may face barriers to accessing adequate care, including transport, work schedules, and financial constraints.

Impact on Health Outcomes

The lack of maternal care access poses a grave risk to the millions of women affected, with increased risks of poor health outcomes, including maternal and infant mortality, preterm birth, and low birth weight. Additionally, many pregnant individuals living in deserts have pre-existing chronic health conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes, further increasing their risk for complications during pregnancy.

Women living in maternity care deserts often receive inadequate prenatal care, leading to undiagnosed or poorly managed health issues. This deficiency in care can have long-term consequences, leading to chronic health conditions or developmental delays in children. Ensuring access to adequate maternal healthcare services is crucial to address these concerning health outcomes and ensure health equity for all.

Accessible prenatal care is not only vital for the health and well-being of pregnant women and their babies but also for society as a whole. By promoting and ensuring access to comprehensive prenatal care, we can strive to improve maternal and fetal health, reduce adverse outcomes, and provide better education and resources for pregnant women.

NCHS has empowered thousands of women in their journey through pregnancy, providing invaluable resources to help plan their future. Our mission is to create a nurturing community and a safe haven for you to explore the available support and express your needs.

Discover more about NCHS' Pregnancy Services program and reach out to our team today.