All children deserve a healthy start in life, which begins with their mother having access to early and frequent prenatal care. Women who receive appropriate prenatal care have healthier pregnancies and healthier babies. Unfortunately, not all women have the opportunity to receive adequate prenatal care. Nationally, the percent of women receiving prenatal care services early in their pregnancies has stayed stagnant in recent years, after a decade of consistent improvement. Between 2007 and 2009, 65 percent of Kentucky women who gave birth received adequate prenatal care. During that same time period, the range of women receiving adequate prenatal care varied greatly from fewer than half in Hart, Henderson, Lawrence, Lee, Martin and Webster Counties to 85 percent in McCracken County.

Inequities in access to health care contribute to this low rate and racial disparities in accessing  prenatal care. Mothers who do not receive prenatal care more often live in low-income families and do not have health insurance. In Kentucky during 2007-2009, White women were most likely and Hispanic women least likely to receive adequate prenatal care services.

Prenatal care performs a variety of critical functions, including: supervising the progress of the pregnancy, screening and treatment for medical conditions, testing for potential birth defects and diseases, monitoring of the fetus’ development, and patient education on behaviors that jeopardize the health of the baby. Early prenatal care provides health care professionals an opportunity to treat health problems early, before they become a threat to the pregnancy.

In order to benefit from early and frequent prenatal care, pregnant women need adequate health care coverage and options for quality care in their community. Health care providers can increase the use of prenatal care by becoming Medicaid providers for low-income mothers, offering care that is sensitive to the values and customs of diverse populations and cultures, and fully involving and informing pregnant women of their health care options. Also, making sure all pregnant women have health care coverage increases their exposure to educational materials about their pregnancy, provides access to critical prenatal care, and encourages use of a primary care provider who can coordinate their care with their other doctors.

For county level information on this Kentucky KIDS COUNT indicator, view the 2011 County Data Book here.

Kentucky Youth Advocates thanks the KIDS COUNT Data Sponsor Home of the Innocents for their support of this indicator.