By Khanh Nguyen
State policymakers are leveraging prenatal care to promote healthy pregnancies and births and a strong start for children.
NCSL’s new report, “State Approaches to Ensuring Healthy Pregnancies Through Prenatal Care,” provides an overview of factors influencing prenatal care access and utilization, different models of care, and state-level solutions and policy options.
Prenatal care can prevent or minimize complications from pregnancy risks that may lead to preterm birth, low birth weight infants, malnutrition and even death. Infants of mothers who do not get prenatal care are three times more likely to be born with a low birth weight and five times more likely to die.
Pregnancy complications are also costly. For example, preterm births cost an estimated $25 billion a year—or roughly $65,000 per preterm birth.
There are also stark disparities in access to high quality prenatal care across different populations. The report highlights gaps in care by race, geography and education, as well as state options to close these gaps.
Women who receive early and regular prenatal care are more likely to have healthy infants. Experts recommend women start prenatal care as soon as they know or suspect they are pregnant, ideally within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and continue as recommended by their health care provider based on the unique needs of each person.
States have implemented several strategies to increase prenatal care visits, improve birth outcomes and address disparities. These strategies include:
- Expanding the workforce and increasing access to additional professional or community-based providers, such as community health workers, doulas and midwives
- Reducing access barriers through home visiting programs and telehealth
- Implementing innovative models of care, such as group prenatal care and medical transportation programs
- Ensuring coverage options, particularly through state medical assistance programs like Medicaid
- Improving quality of prenatal and maternity care through provider training, quality improvement initiatives and special task forces or committees
The report also highlights federal programs, policies and partnerships that support and complement state efforts to ensure healthy pregnancies through recommended prenatal care.
Khanh Nguyen is a senior policy specialist in NCSL’s Health Program.