The primary goal of prenatal care remains an optimally healthy pregnancy outcome for mother and child. In order to achieve this outcome, prenatal care encompasses a range of aspects from medical to social; from physiological to psychological; and from assessment to intervention. Once pregnancy is confirmed, a woman’s health care provider monitors the development of the pregnancy and guides the mother to and through childbirth. An expectant mother’s first appointment includes determining patient history, performing of the physical examination, and undergoing laboratory testing. Subsequent appointments routinely evaluate and screen for maternal or fetal problems in order to intervene and prevent complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Additionally, patient education becomes part of the process where mothers and families learn about, and are counseled on, nutrition, healthy lifestyle, birth plan, and family planning.
Two primary purposes and benefits of prenatal care are the reduction of preventable maternal and infant mortality and morbidity – goals the international community adopted in 2000 with the overarching theme of eliminating poverty and its attendant and concomitant developmental challenges. These goals became part of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals that nations have been striving to achieve by 2015 in partnerships between and among governments, civil society, and the public and private sectors.
Improvements in maternal mortality rates have been made in the ensuing years since 2000. However, some countries lag behind in their attempt to fulfill the goal of reducing maternal deaths by three quarters by 2015. One such country is the Philippines where the maternal mortality rate is 221 deaths per 100,000 live births as of available statistics from 2011. Prenatal care from a physician, nurse-midwife, or a midwife helps to avert these preventable deaths. Yet, 10% of rural Filipino women still seek out the traditional birth attendant known as a hilot who has had no formal education or training in obstetrics. Largely, these women are socio-economically disadvantaged with low educational attainment availing themselves of hilots who are members of the immediate community and offer a low-cost alternative to professional health care providers. For many rural women hilots are their only option and they typically do not receive care in the initial stages of their pregnancies. Rather, the expectant mothers will delay visiting with the hilot early on. While it has been reported that traditional birth attendants provide much in the way of emotional support and are effective at allaying expectant mothers’ fears they are unable to screen for or determine high-risk pregnancies since they perform their services outside the modern medical community.
Through prenatal care during pregnancy health care providers are better able to identify a number of complications early on including preventable causes of maternal mortality such as risk of hemorrhage, hypertension, obstructed labor, infection, and unhealthy lifestyle. Moreover, pregnancy, while natural and normal, can still be a time of vulnerability. Health care professionals providing assurances and support for anxieties and apprehensions during pregnancy and childbirth is central to delivering quality and comprehensive prenatal and postpartum care.
At Alay Foundation, we believe it is the right of every woman to receive quality care for herself and her unborn children and financial hardship should not be a deterrent to seeking the best possible prenatal care. Our birthing center and proposed prenatal program to partner our physicians with midwives is committed to a holistic approach for the health of mother and child while enrolling women and their families in PhilHealth continues to be our focus for establishing a relationship of reliability and trust for struggling Filipino families in need of health care services. Health care professionals are there to guard and guide the process of pregnancy and childbirth. Expecting a child is a profound time in the life of mothers and families – one that can be filled with much joy and anticipation and prenatal care forms the cornerstone of supporting the health of mother and child. Every woman deserves the chance to seek, and have, the best possible care for herself and for her unborn children.