Formal childbirth education has been a part of most pregnancy journeys for the past 60 years or longer. The timing, scope, and audience of maternal health education must be expanded as one way to mitigate the climbing maternal mortality rate.
Education that begins in early pregnancy and extends well into the postpartum period, or “fourth trimester,” is helpful for people who are pregnant and their families. It can give them the skills and confidence to access, understand, and use information and services to support positive maternal health outcomes.
Improving Maternal Health Literacy
It can be challenging to sift through the enormous volume of information online or offered by friends and families and figure out what is accurate, up-to-date, and based on evidence. It’s even harder to know what to do with that information. Studies have found that most women get pregnancy information online.
Part of maternal health education should focus on health literacy to help expectant parents make sense of all the available information and feel more secure in their healthcare decisions. Increased health literacy equips and empowers people to better understand their options, seek out medical and/or community-based supports, and make informed choices.
Community-based organizations also play a role in maternal health literacy education. This is an opportunity for expectant parents to hear from people in their own communities with similar life experiences.
First Lady Teas, a program run by Elevance Health, is an example of a community-based program designed to encourage faith-based leaders to be a resource for expectant parents. The leaders provide information and support to mothers and babies in their congregations with education-focused community baby showers.
Helping Shape Early Decisions
Decisions made early in pregnancy – such as choosing a care provider and a place of birth – affect the choices that come throughout the pregnancy and birth. Many people aren’t aware of all their options when making these choices or don’t realize why or how they matter.
Inviting expectant parents and members of their support system to community baby showers and other educational opportunities in the first trimester can be an avenue for helping them make decisions. These might be decisions such as whether to see a midwife or an OB/GYN, whether to hire a doula, what it means to compile a birth plan, or where to give birth.
Evidence suggests that appropriate health information and advice provided before and during pregnancy can reduce the rate of caesarean sections and maternal and infant mortality rates.
Postpartum Maternal Health Education
Education doesn’t stop when baby arrives. Health education strategies that continue after birth have been found to contribute to improved maternal and child outcomes.
New parents are often provided with educational materials after birth to help them know what to expect and identify potential health problems. These materials must be easily understandable and culturally relevant to provide critical information about postpartum care. They should also be delivered in a variety of formats to account for different learning styles and preferences. These might include classes, one-on-one conversations, written information, videos, apps, and other approaches.
With more than half of maternal deaths occurring after delivery, the postpartum period is critical. Prenatal care – and education – should continue for a full year after the end of pregnancy.
Maternal health education and health literacy education – from pregnancy through postpartum – can help expectant parents and their support systems make informed choices with the goal of improved outcomes for parent and child.