Objectives: Prenatal care is commonly understood to have a beneficial impact on birthweight. This study describes socioeconomic differences in utilization of prenatal medical care and birthweight in a population with universal health insurance.
Methods: Measures of prenatal care utilization, incidence of pregnancy complications, and birthweight were obtained from physician reimbursement claims and hospital separation abstracts for 12,646 pregnant women. Maternal socioeconomic status was derived from small-area census data.
Results: Infants born to women in the poorest income quintile had lower birthweights than infants born to wealthier women. Much of the difference was associated with a higher prevalence of complications, smoking, unmarried status, and inadequate prenatal care among low-income women. The difference in birthweight between adequate and less than adequate care groups was small, and the benefit associated with prenatal care was no greater among women with pregnancy complications.
Conclusions: The lower utilization of prenatal care by poorer women accounted for a small proportion of the difference in birthweight. Socioeconomic differences in birthweight are primarily attributable to factors not directly influenced by early prenatal medical care.