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Keywords:

  • prenatal care;
  • pregnancy;
  • systematic review;
  • personal satisfaction;
  • patient-centered care;
  • health care disparities;
  • professional-patient relations;
  • qualitative research;
  • questionnaires

The objective of this study was to identify, synthesize, and critically analyze published research on women's experiences of prenatal care. A search of online databases and relevant citations for research published from 1996 to 2007 was conducted. Thirty-six articles were reviewed. Qualitative analysis methods were used, assisted by research software. This review found that some women were treated respectfully and reported comprehensive, individualized care. However, some women experienced long waits and rushed visits, and perceived prenatal care as mechanistic or harsh. Women's preferences included reasonable waits, unhurried visits, continuity, flexibility, comprehensive care, meeting with other pregnant women in groups, developing meaningful relationships with professionals, and becoming more active participants in care. Some low-income and minority women experienced discrimination or stereotyping and external barriers to care. Further research is recommended to understand women's experiences and to develop and implement evidence-based, women-centered approaches. Clinicians should inquire regarding women's needs and modify care accordingly and also advocate for institutional changes that reduce barriers to care. Implementing comprehensive, redesigned models of care may be one effective way to simultaneously address a variety of women's needs and preferences. If prenatal care becomes more attractive and more accessible, women's experience and pregnancy outcomes may both improve.