Every pregnancy is unique. Throughout their pregnancies, expectant mothers may face a variety of health concerns. They may have physical health issues, such as infections and high blood pressure, or mental and emotional health concerns, such as anxiety and depression. Some expectant mothers are at risk of prenatal labor or miscarriage. Appropriate prenatal care can make a difference. Effective prenatal care means making sure expectant mothers can access the high-quality prenatal health services they need. In Illinois, as in states across the country, many expectant mothers can’t afford prenatal care and lack access to health resources. They may even be unaware of warning signs of conditions that can threaten their pregnancies.
The type of prenatal care an expectant mother receives is critically important to her health and her baby’s — before, during and after pregnancy. Illinois offers an array of helpful resources.
The Importance of Prenatal Care
Without a doubt, prenatal care is vital. But what does this type of care involve?
Health Issues During Pregnancy
According to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, expectant mothers can develop many health problems, including the following:
- Gestational diabetes. When an expectant mother’s blood sugar levels become too high, she can develop conditions such as preeclampsia, which entails high blood pressure and excess protein in her urine. As a result, her health care provider may recommend delivery by cesarean section, a surgical procedure.
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other types of infections can impact an expectant mother’s health and that of her child during and after pregnancy. For example, bacterial vaginosis can result in preterm labor. Chlamydia, an STI, can result in preterm birth as well as pneumonia or even blindness in the child if untreated, according to the NICHD.
- Placental abruption. In cases of placental abruption, an expectant mother’s placenta, the organ that transfers blood to the fetus, separates from the inner uterine wall. According to the NICHD, the effects of this separation can range from mild to severe and may require early delivery.
- Miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy, typically between the 12th and 28th weeks of gestation. The expectant mother’s uterus spontaneously expels the fetus before it can survive on its own. Potential indicators of an impending miscarriage include uterine cramps and bleeding.
In addition to physical health issues, expectant mothers often have mental and emotional health concerns as well. According to the World Health Organization, “Worldwide about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental disorder, primarily depression. In developing countries, this is even higher, i.e., 15.6% during pregnancy and 19.8% after child birth.”
The depression or anxiety expectant mothers experience can complicate their pregnancies. According to the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Mental Health, “Women who suffer from psychiatric illness during pregnancy are less likely to receive adequate prenatal care and are more likely to use alcohol, tobacco and other substances known to adversely affect pregnancy outcomes.” The MGH Center provides the following examples of negative pregnancy outcomes: low birth weight, preeclampsia, hypoglycemia and infants having to be treated in a special nursery.
Challenges Accessing Prenatal Care
Physical and emotional challenges are just part of the puzzle. Many expectant mothers encounter barriers to accessing prenatal care at all.
A study from the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth grouped these prenatal care barriers into four different areas:
- Caregiver resources. Realistically, health care providers may not always have the resources available to them to provide expectant mothers with an ideal prenatal health education.
- Health care system barriers. Expectant mothers may not be aware of the variety or extent of services that a health organization offers or where prenatal health organizations are located. They may lack referrals to obtain services and may not be able to afford treatment.
- Personal barriers. Expectant mothers might not have transportation or the means to take time off from their jobs to get prenatal care. Or they might distrust the health care system overall, perhaps due to previous bad experiences with doctors or hospitals. In turn, they may be unwilling to access prenatal care. Additionally, expectant mothers may not have strong social support structures that could help them overcome such barriers to care.
- Program and service characteristics. How a clinic or health organization functions can make it easier or harder for expectant mothers to access care. For example, if a prenatal health clinic’s hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, expectant mothers who work during those same hours might not be able to access the clinic’s services. Additionally, clinics may be understaffed or have to book back-to-back appointments throughout the day, which can lead to a rushed and impersonal prenatal care experience, possibly affecting the quality of care or an expectant mother’s willingness to access care at the facility.
Any combination of the above factors can lead to an expectant mother’s not receiving high-quality prenatal care, not getting enough prenatal care, not becoming aware of prenatal conditions and vital health services, or even avoiding prenatal care entirely.
Prenatal Care Clinics and Additional Resources
Expectant mothers who need prenatal care confront significant challenges, but resources and organizations can help.
At clinics and hospitals, family care practitioners and obstetrician-gynecologists (OB-GYNs) frequently treat expectant mothers. According to Healthline, family care practitioners conduct pregnancy tests and provide advice on selecting a specialist. They also may perform prenatal services and deliver babies.
OB-GYNs specialize in women’s health, while obstetricians focus on health issues during pregnancy. A family care practitioner or other health professional will often refer an expectant mother to an OB-GYN. It’s common for family practitioners and OB-GYNs to work collaboratively in the same facility.
Midwives provide expectant mothers with another care option. They offer treatment and advice to expectant mothers before, during and after birth. Expectant mothers may also choose to receive care from doulas, a trained nonmedical companion who are dedicated to the physical and emotional support of a mother throughout pregnancy and after childbirth and providing coaching and education throughout the process.
Ultrasound technicians also support expectant mothers. They use ultrasound technology to monitor the fetus’ health and share images with expectant mothers that show them how their babies are developing.
In addition to the valuable expertise of these caregivers, other resources are available to expectant mothers throughout their pregnancies. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood offer services to expectant mothers. The following federal health services can also address prenatal health concerns:
- 1-800-311-BABY. Expectant mothers can call this toll-free number to learn about options for reduced or free prenatal care.
- Office on Women’s Health. This office offers information on prenatal care and reproductive health services.
- Healthy Start. An initiative of the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), Healthy Start is dedicated to reducing infant mortality, addressing prenatal health concerns and tackling socioeconomic factors that can prevent expectant mothers from getting prenatal care.
- Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program. Offered by the HRSA, this program gives expectant mothers, “particularly those considered at-risk, necessary resources and skills to raise children who are physically, socially and emotionally healthy and ready to learn,” as described on the HRSA website. Services during home visits include prenatal care, breastfeeding instruction and assistance with setting goals.
Many online and digital resources also feature information and services geared toward expectant mothers. For example, the What to Expect pregnancy and baby tracker and The Bump’s Pregnancy Countdown are helpful mobile applications. The Mother to Baby website shares expert advice on medications and prenatal care, and BabyCenter offers week-by-week information on an expectant mother’s pregnancy. These are just a few of the many tools and community resources available to help expectant mothers.
Prenatal Care in Illinois
Hospitals, clinics and other organizations in Illinois offer a range of prenatal care and services to expectant mothers. For example, the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) provides a Medicaid Presumptive Eligibility (MPE) program that offers “immediate, temporary coverage for outpatient health care for pregnant women.” The HFS’ Moms and Babies program covers the cost of medication, doctor visits and mental health care for qualifying expectant mothers for up to 60 days after the baby is born. Coverage includes inpatient hospital care and delivery. To be eligible for these programs, expectant mothers need to meet certain income requirements.
For expectant mothers living in the Chicago area, Access Community Health Network provides a range of prenatal and maternal health programs, including breastfeeding education and support. CenteringPregnancy, a community prenatal services program, teaches expectant mothers about maintaining prenatal health while giving them the chance to forge relationships with other expectant mothers.
The Illinois Department of Public Health offers educational events and informational guides to maternal health, such as how to keep breast pumps and other early childhood items clean.
Expectant mothers who may be facing an unplanned pregnancy can seek the maternity services of the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Chicago, which offers counseling, education, home visits and parenting strategies.
Planned Parenthood operates 17 health clinics across Illinois. Expectant mothers who are interested in a specific type of care or service, such as pregnancy planning, prenatal services or childbirth classes, should research which Planned Parenthood clinic in the state may be the best fit for them.
Effective prenatal care involves the combined efforts of many dedicated health practitioners working in a variety of health, community and government organizations.
Access Community Health Network, Women’s Health in the Chicago Area
BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, “Barriers and Facilitators Related to Use of Prenatal Care by Inner-City Women: Perceptions of Health Care Providers”
Healthline, “Pregnancy Doctors and Birthing Options”
Health Resources & Services Administration, Maternal & Child Health, Healthy Start
Health Resources & Services Administration, Maternal & Child Health, Home Visiting
Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Moms and Babies
Illinois Department of Public Health, Maternal, Child & Family Health
MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health, Psychiatric Disorders During Pregnancy Mother to Baby
Planned Parenthood, Pregnancy Testing & Services
Planned Parenthood of Illinois
The Bump, Pregnancy Countdown
The Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Chicago, Maternity/Pregnancy
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, What Health Problems Can Develop During Pregnancy?
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, What Infections Can Cause Pregnancy?
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office on Women’s Health, Prenatal Care
What to Expect Pregnancy and Baby Tracker
World Health Organizations, Maternal Mental Health