Maternal Health and Prenatal Care
Health promotion programs that focus on improving the health and well-being of pregnant women can help to
contribute to better outcomes in early childhood. One of the early childhood health promotion frameworks, the Life
Course Framework, describes how women's experiences and exposures during pregnancy, and even before, can
impact children's health. This framework suggests that the longer an individual is exposed to and applies positive
environmental, physical, mental, and behavioral activities to their routine, the better their health. The
opposite is also true: the longer a person is exposed to unhealthy or negative behaviors, the poorer their
health. The children of Pregnant women
who exhibit positive physical, mental, environmental, and behavioral health over their lifecourse show
the best birth outcomes and optimal childhood health. Research suggests that childhood obesity and related
conditions are traceable to exposure to risk factors in the
days from conception through their second birthday.
For women of childbearing age, maintaining a healthy weight is a preventive measure that can contribute to
childhood health. In 2014, nearly 40% of
women over the age of 18 living in the most rural counties of the U.S. self-reported as obese. Maternal
obesity increases the risk of adverse
pregnancy and birth outcomes, including preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm birth, having a
and stillbirth. Maternal obesity is also the strongest
predictor of obesity in children.
Preconception care is preventive care that all
women of childbearing years ideally receive prior to becoming pregnant. It provides education and counseling on
physical, mental, environmental, and behavioral health that cultivate the healthiest opportunities for mother
Many pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, meaning the
pregnancy occurred at a time that was not planned or desired, or the pregnancy occurred when no children were
wanted. Unintended pregnancies often occur at higher rates in communities with high levels of poverty and lower
educational attainment. Unintended pregnancies often result in securing prenatal care later
than recommended and premature birth, which can result in health problems,
including developmental delays, in children.
Expectant mothers can benefit from regular prenatal
visits starting early in pregnancy. Prenatal care involves education on appropriate health behaviors
during pregnancy and how to provide the best environment for their baby to grow. These visits provide an
opportunity to monitor the health of the baby and the mother to improve birth outcomes.
Aside from emphasizing the importance of healthcare visits and prenatal care, programs may choose to target
several other factors that influence children's health, including:
Reducing or eliminating exposure to toxic substances, such as lead
Addressing mental health and substance use issues during pregnancy and after a child is born
Supporting women and families with community resources and services to help with a wide range of health and
For more information, see the Maternal Health Toolkit.
Resources to Learn More
Disparities in Rural Women
Describes the various health disparities women in rural communities face, notably poorer obstetric and
reproductive health outcomes, as well as the impact of obstetric-gynecologic workforce shortages.
Organization(s): American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists