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WHO Doubles the Number of Prenatal Visits, Changes Guidelines for Care

FILE - Isabela Cristina, 18, who is six months pregnant, shows a photo of her ultrasound at the IMIP hospital in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil.
FILE - Isabela Cristina, 18, who is six months pregnant, shows a photo of her ultrasound at the IMIP hospital in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil.

Pregnant women worldwide should have at least eight visits with competent midwives or health workers before giving birth. That's double the previous recommendation by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO revised and consolidated its recommendation to ensure babies not only have everything they need to thrive, but also to be sure expectant mothers remain healthy.

Dr. Ian Askew, Director of Reproductive Health and Research at the World Health Organization, told VOA, "Evidence shows that the more contacts the woman has with the health care system, the less likely for her to have a stillbirth or for there to be complications with newborn births. And the evidence suggests the more contacts a woman has from four to eight does reduce the likelihood of this."

With eight visits, from early to late pregnancy, health problems for both the mother and the fetus can be addressed, whether it's proper nutrition, exercise, morning sickness or other physical conditions and discomforts that go along with pregnancy.

The good thing, Askew says, is that these guidelines "put the woman at the center of care." Pregnancy, with all its physical challenges can be a more positive experience, plus with more monitoring by a health worker later in pregnancy, women with high-risk pregnancies have a greater chance for better outcomes.

World Health Organization Suggests Doubling New Mothers' Prenatal Health Care Visits
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"As long as women are having contact with a skilled provider, probably a midwife or another clinical health worker, who has good training in antenatal care, it’s the contact that’s important -- they don’t necessarily have to trek a long way to a health facility," Askew said.

The guidelines allow for a woman to receive the care at a place convenient to her: at a community center, in her village or at home. Askew points to programs in south Asia where, he said, women’s groups have been very effective in providing antenatal care services with community health workers and mentors.

The World Health Organization on its website says that last year, "an estimated 303,000 women died from pregnancy-related causes, 2.7 million babies died during the first 28 days of life and 2.6 million babies were stillborn. And while quality health care during pregnancy and childbirth can prevent many of these deaths, globally only 64 percent of women receive antenatal (prenatal) care four or more times throughout their pregnancy."

Askew said the core set of recommendations are for all women, including adolescent girls. Previously, the WHO had had guidelines that addressed various complications associated with antenatal care, "but there have never been one single set of comprehensive guidelines and there’s been a lot of evidence gathered over the last decade or so that demonstrates what works with antenatal care," and Askew said this set of guidelines brings together all these recommendations.

Another important factor is that doctors have gained a lot of knowledge about ensuring the health of babies and their mothers since the last set of guidelines was written more than a decade ago. Askew said these guidelines will be updated as needed with even more discoveries about improving the outcomes for babies and pregnant women.