New WHO Antenatal Care Recommendations: An important step toward saving lives, says Every Preemie

Nov. 15, 2016 – The World Health Organization (WHO) has released new Antenatal Care Recommendations to help improve care of pregnant women and reduce the risk of stillbirths and pregnancy complications and give women a positive pregnancy experience. Every Preemie-SCALE supports these guidelines as critical steps to saving lives around the world.

Every Preemie – SCALE (Scaling, Catalyzing, Advocating, Learning, and Evidence-driven) is a USAID funded project, implemented by a consortium comprised of Project Concern International, the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives. Every Preemie provides practical, catalytic and scalable approaches to expand the uptake of preterm birth and low birthweight interventions in 24 USAID priority countries in Africa and Asia.

Every year, nearly a million babies do not survive infancy due to complications from preterm birth. These are the most vulnerable population in the world, and globally only 64% of women receive antenatal (prenatal) care four or more times throughout their pregnancy. The new recommendations call for a two-fold increase in the number of visits a pregnant woman has with her healthcare provider. These changes are an important step toward pregnant women getting the care they need and will help mothers and their babies have healthier pregnancy and birth experiences.

Antenatal care is a critical opportunity for health providers to deliver care, support and information to pregnant women. This includes promoting a healthy lifestyle, including good nutrition; avoiding use of harmful substances; detecting and preventing diseases; providing family planning counseling for birth timing/spacing; supporting women who may be experiencing intimate partner violence; and providing information on exposures in the workplace. Many of these early interventions can prevent preterm birth, thus reducing the risk of death associated with being born too soon.

Adequate spacing of heath care visits during pregnancy is also important, ensuring that pregnant women are seen by their caregiver consistently throughout pregnancy. The recommendations include a schedule for the timing and content of the eight antenatal care visits that should begin in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Quality health care during pregnancy and childbirth can also prevent many pregnancy related deaths. The WHO estimates that adoption of these recommendations can reduce perinatal deaths by up to 8 per 1000 births when compared to the previous recommendation of four or more visits. Every Preemie works to help improve birth outcomes in low-resource settings, and we know that too few women have adequate visits with a healthcare provider that begin early during pregnancy. We support these guidelines and their implementation and look forward to healthier pregnancies and births for mothers and their children.

Jim Litch MD, DTMH

Judith Robb-McCord, MAAS, MPH

Patrice M. White, CNM, DrPH