Two in five pregnant women don’t receive care in the first trimester

Found in: Health resources

Two in five pregnant women don’t receive care in the first trimester 

Around 40% of expectant mothers in New South Wales are delaying important early pregnancy tests and screening, new research has found.The study was conducted by the Western Sydney Local Health District and published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. It found socioeconomically disadvantaged groups were most at risk of missing out on early antenatal care (ANC). Researchers said teenagers, unmarried women, smokers and migrants were among those least likely to receive a comprehensive assessment from a doctor in the first 14 weeks of their pregnancy.

Antenatal care involves regular monitoring of a pregnant mother by health professionals. This can include physical tests, blood tests and ultrasounds. Tests provided during antenatal care can detect whether the woman is at risk of preterm birth. They also examine the health of the fetus and check for congenital defects such as heart defects and Down Syndrome. The first antenatal visit should occur around the ten-week mark. At the first antenatal check, a health care provider will interview the woman and discuss any issues of concern. The check-up also provides a woman with useful health advice, education and screening tests.

According to the researchers, fewer antenatal visits, and delayed entry to ANC in particular, hinders timely and important health advice and education and benefit from screening tests.

The study said strategies encouraging women to seek antenatal care early in their pregnancy needed to be promoted, especially those targeting women who fall into higher-risk groups such as smokers and migrants.

In an article published in The Conversation, Professor Baum argues it’s the health services themselves that need to be improved to become more accessible for pregnant women. She said a young pregnant woman who smokes, for example, will likely avoid visiting a health clinic for fear of reprimand. “Rather than targeting the women,” Professor Baum said, “you ask the question: ‘How do we make these services welcoming to migrant women, young women, to people who don’t have much money, to people who smoke?’

"They’re saying they can’t get the women, which implies those women are hard to reach. I think the way I would look at it is that the services are hard for those people to reach, so I think it’s the services that need to change.”

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