The Effects of Prenatal Care on Birth Outcomes: Reconciling a Messy Literature
- Hope Corman, Hope CormanDepartment of Finance and Economics, Rider University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
- Dhaval DaveDhaval DaveDepartment of Economics, Bentley University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
- and Nancy E. ReichmanNancy E. ReichmanRobert Wood Johnson Medical School, Rutgers University
Prenatal care, one of the most frequently used forms of healthcare in the United States, involves a series of encounters during the gestational period, educates women about pregnancy, monitors existing medical conditions, tests for gestational health conditions, and refers expectant mothers to services such as support groups and social services. However, an increasingly methodologically rigorous literature suggests that the effects of prenatal care timing and quantity on birth outcomes, particularly low birthweight, are modest at the population level. A review and synthesis of the literature suggests that the questions typically being asked may be too narrow and that more attention should be paid to the characterization of infant health, characterization of the content and quality of prenatal care, potential heterogeneous effects, potential indirect effects on health behaviors that may benefit offspring, potential long-term effects, potential spillover effects (i.e., on mothers and their subsequent children), effects of preconceptional and lifetime care, and intergenerational effects.