Preterm and low birth weight are significant healthcare challenges in different parts of the world. Such births cause serious health care problems for the affected babies due to developmental difficulties (Almond, Chay, & Lee, 2005; Hummer, Lehner, & Pruckne, 2014). Consequently, these infants have to undergo hospitalization until they gain the ideal weight. They are also treated for any potential clinical condition caused by premature birth and low birth weight. According to Russell et al. (2007), the length of the hospitalization depends on the nature of the preterm or weight challenge. For example, extremely preterm babies remain in the hospital longer and might require advanced treatment. Hence, a considerable cost of care is associated with the treatment and management of medical issues related to premature and low birth weight.
The healthcare implications have attracted interest in research on the potential interventions for the challenge involved in providing care to preterm and low birth weight challenges. Practitioners face the challenge of developing effective programs and interventions to reduce the chances of premature births and low birth weight. Previous research has revealed a positive relationship between prenatal care and postpartum outcomes (Henderson, 1994). Evidence appears to indicate that comprehensive prenatal care plays a vital role in preventing preterm deliveries and enhancing the birth of standard weight babies. However, the studies reveal the importance of focusing the prenatal care programs to the outcome such as preterm birth prevention. Additionally, the stage during which the prenatal care begins determines the birth outcome. Various studies have focused on the cost of care for preterm and low birth weight and premature babies as well as potential interventions, including effective prenatal care programs.
Key Issue/research Question
The research question for the study is: Can Prenatal Care Reduce Low Weight Infant Birth and Health Care Cost?
The research problem being investigated is the effect of prenatal care in reducing low birth weight and health care cost. The effective way of answering the research question is through secondary research approach. Thus, data will be collected from primary studies where the person gathering the data is different from the original researcher. The design is appropriate for the review since it provides comprehensive data from available sources to answer the research question. The sources for the study are obtained from online databases including EBSCOhost and ProQuest. The researcher identified seven sources to review and discuss the research question. The sources were determined using a search strategy based on the key terms identified from the topic of study. The study does not involve statistical analysis since the researcher does not use primary data. The researcher categorizes the data from the articles in various themes for easy reporting. The information from the six sources will be used in presenting the findings of the study, investigating the role of prenatal care programs on low birth weight and health care costs.
The Effect of Prenatal Care on Low Birth Weight
The first section of the study investigated the relationship between prenatal care and birth outcomes, including birth weight and the maturity of the pregnancy during delivery. From his research, Henderson (1994) revealed a considerable difference between babies born to mothers who received prenatal care compared with those who did not benefit from such a program. According to his findings, the mean birth weight of infants born to mothers who attended prenatal programs was 3,380 grams (7.4 pounds), compared with the second group at an average birth weight of 3,100 grams (6.8 pounds).
The Effect of Preterm/Low Birth Weight on Healthcare Cost
The second section of the study reviewed the literature on the impact of prematurity and low birth weight on the cost of health care. Schmitt, Sneed, and Phibbs (2006) reveal that Low birth weight (LBW) and very low birth weight (VLBW) are the leading reasons for lengthy hospitalizations of neonates. On average, the length of hospitalization for LBW was 6.2 to 68.1 days. Conversely, the mean hospitalization period for babies weighing >2500 g was 2.3 days. A more recent study by Cavallo et al. (2015) show that VLBWIs had an average length of hospitalization of 59.7 days with a related cost of €20,502 (SD €8409) compared with the cost of €907 (SD €304) for the average of 3 days hospitalization among full-term infants. Schmitt, Sneed, and Phibbs (2006) further reveal that the average cost of care for VLBW babies was 35.7 percent of the expenses for the 0.9 percent of cases compared with 56.6 percent of total hospital costs for the 5.9 percent of cases among the LBW infants. Similar results were revealed by Russell et al. (2007) who established that the cost of hospitalization was highest for extremely preterm babies. However, the high number of premature and low weight babies had higher costs of care.
The Effect of Prenatal Care of Health Care Cost
The third section of the study investigated the effect on the cost of healthcare for designing effective prenatal programs and ensuring that mothers received such services. Almond, Chay, and Lee (2005) suggested the effects of prenatal interventions in reducing the rate of preterm/low birth weight deliveries and consequently affecting the cost of care for the infants. Similarly, Bekemeier, Yang, Dunbar, Pantazis, and Grembowski (2014) revealed a positive effect of targeted local health department expenditure on the health outcomes of mothers and infants. Hummer, Lehner, and Pruckne (2014) qualified the findings by suggesting a reduction in the cost of care using effective interventions to screen the potential complications for children born prematurely and with low birth weight. According to the findings by Henderson (1994), 9.50 percent of women who fail to receive prenatal care experience premature delivery, compared to 4.60 percent of the mothers who receive the care.
Previous research shows that prematurity and its related low birth weight challenges are the primary cost of complications that cause lengthy hospitalizations and the high cost of care. Besides, the incidence of preterm births is higher for mothers who do not receive prenatal care compared with those who have access to the services. Therefore, investment in prenatal care programs could have positive effects on the rate of preterm or low birth weight deliveries and considerably reduce the frequency and length of hospitalization of the infants. Consequently, the reduction in hospital stays for infants will have significant cost implications by lowering health care spending on neonatal care. Therefore, health care policies targeting pregnant mothers and neonates should be based on effective interventions to prevent premature deliveries and low birth weights, and accordingly, address the high cost of care associated with the challenge. Research shows a high return on investment through effective maternal and child care health (MCH). Hence, policy-makers in the health care system should establish effective interventions in this area to reduce the cost of health services after delivery.