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Pregnancy and Prenatal Care

What's the Problem?

Each year, reports of approximately 500 women who died as a result of a pregnancy-related complication are received by the Division of Reproductive Health at CDC. There are probably up to 500 additional such deaths that are not identified as being caused by pregnancy.

In 1999, on average there were seven infant deaths per 1000 live births. Differences in race and socioeconomic conditions can result in much higher incidences of infant mortality. The leading causes of infant death were congenital anomalies and low birthweight - two conditions that can be considerable impacted by prenatal care.

In order to have the best possible outcome for mother and child, early prenatal care is essential. Even before a woman conceives, she can be given folic acid, checked for immunity to rubella and blood type, as well as advised about smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating a healthy diet. Once a woman is pregnant, prenatal visits to a healthcare provider will include examinations to determine the health of the mother and developing fetus.

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Who's at Risk?

A higher risk of death related to pregnancy has been found in women over 35 years of age, women who have borne five or more children, women who did not receive prenatal care, and Hispanic and black women. The single most important factor influencing neonatal mortality is birth weight. The rate of infant death increases significantly with decreasing birth weight for infants weighing less than 2500 grams.

Can It Be Prevented?

Some estimate that up to one half of pregnancy-related deaths could be prevented. An important element for decreasing infant mortality is to prevent low birth weight. Early prenatal care can provide necessary information to the mother and effect changes for nutrition-related and behavioral risk factors impacting the mother and baby.

The Bottom Line

  • Consider a preconception visit before you get pregnant.
  • Start taking folic acid before conception.
  • Get early prenatal care.
  • Eat a well balanced diet.
  • With doctor's approval, get regular exercise.
  • Limit caffeine and avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and street drugs.
  • Page last reviewed: February 22, 2011
  • Page last updated: February 22, 2011
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