Does Prenatal Education Effect Current Healthcare Decision-Making?

Monday, 30 October 2017

Jane Leach, PhD
Wilson School of Nursing, Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, TX, USA

Healthcare providers can agree that childbirth experiences can have a profound impact on women. However, providers do not know whether attending prenatal education classes has any sustainable impact on consumers of health care. Many women attend prenatal education classes during pregnancy but the number of women that attend such classes has dropped precipitously, often traded for readily available information on the Internet. A qualitative study explored the perception of women regarding long-term effects of prenatal education on their future health care decision-making. The qualitative study used a purposive sample of 10 women who participated in focus groups. Analysis of the focus group narratives provided themes in order of prevalence (a) self-advocacy, (b) new skills, (c) anticipatory guidance, (d) control, (e) informed consent, and (f) trust. This small exploratory study demonstrates that the themes and issues from participants who delivered 15-30 years ago were comparable to current findings in the literature, but did not answer the question of whether prenatal education influences current or future health care decision-making.

A gap exists in the research regarding the impact of prenatal education to provide a sustainable benefit or influences over current health care decisions. Cook and Loomis (2012), reported that birth experiences provide women with a sense of empowerment” (p. 158). That same author, Lampron (2002), shared how during breast cancer treatments that skills learned during pregnancy and birth provided her with coping strategies. The literature does not include evidence on whether knowledge, skills and attitudes acquired during prenatal education impacts current health care decision making.

If evidence links prenatal education to current health care choices, it would provide providers with needed support to advocate for equitable access to prenatal education. The number of first time mothers attending prenatal education classes has dropped significantly. Healthcare providers continue to view prenatal education as important, but fewer than 11% of women view prenatal education as a routine part of pregnancy (Declercq, Sakala, Corry, Applebaum, & Herrlich, 2013). For many women, childbearing years include a first exposure to the health care system. Current literature supports the premise that prenatal care has an impact on risk factors, but if those experiences might empower women to take a more active role in their own health care in the future, than this issue needs to further exploration.

Healthcare providers are eager for consumers to advocate for themselves and to participate in their own health care. The healthcare community benefits from an informed consumer. If researchers establish significant evidence of a long-term impact of prenatal education to empower women to be better consumers of healthcare, then providers will have evidence useful to encourage stakeholders and policy makers to ensure access to quality prenatal education.