Maternal health: does prenatal care make a difference?



This research attempts to close an important gap in health economics regarding the efficacy of prenatal care and policies designed to improve access to that care, such as Medicaid. We argue that a key beneficiary – the mother – has been left completely out of the analysis. If prenatal care significantly improves the health of the mother, then concluding that prenatal care is ‘ineffective’ or that the Medicaid expansions are a ‘failure’ is premature. This paper seeks to rectify the oversight by estimating the impact of prenatal care on maternal health and the associated cost savings.

We first set up a joint maternal–infant health production framework that informs our empirical analysis. Using data from the National Maternal and Infant Health Survey, we estimate the effects of prenatal care on several different measures of maternal health such as body weight status and excessive hospitalizations. Our results suggest that receiving timely and adequate prenatal care may increase the probability of maintaining a healthy weight after the birth and, perhaps for blacks, of avoiding a lengthy hospitalization after the delivery. Given the costs to society of obesity and hospitalization, these are benefits worth exploring before making conclusions about the effectiveness of prenatal care – and Medicaid. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.