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Services for Pregnant Women and Expectant Families

Services for Pregnant Women and Expectant Families and Their Link to School Readiness

Early Head Start staff support pregnant mothers and expectant families by ensuring they have an ongoing, continuous source of health care. Staff can also help them access comprehensive services. These services may include prenatal education, appropriate nutrition, oral health care, mental health supports, substance misuse treatment and prevention, and emergency housing or shelter, particularly in situations where domestic violence is occurring. In addition, programs must schedule a newborn home visit within two weeks of the infant's birth to offer support and identify family needs.

Early Head Start staff focus on nurturing parent-child relationships so parents can form secure attachments to their babies and provide responsive caregiving. This includes engaging fathers from the beginning and involving both parents, where possible, in the family partnership process. These early experiences help children reach their full potential in school and in life.

Learn more about services to enrolled pregnant women at 45 CFR § 1302—Subpart H of the Head Start Program Performance Standards.

Improve the effectiveness of health services and support school readiness by:

Supporting healthy beginnings for infants and their families to promote nurturing relationships that support learning throughout a child's life.

  • Use a research-based curriculum to help pregnant women and expectant families understand the link between prenatal development and school readiness.
  • Use validated tools to screen for maternal and paternal depression.
  • Engage the services of a mental health professional who can provide prenatal, perinatal, and post-partum mental health support and make referrals when needed.

Capitalizing on partnerships to expand school readiness and health activities that support access to and engagement in learning.

  • Establish relationships with community partners with expertise in labor and delivery, postpartum care, and maternal health, and include them on the Health Services Advisory Committee (HSAC).
  • Use community partnerships and the HSAC to provide multicultural and multilingual family health resources around:
    • Healthy prenatal development
    • The effects of smoking and other substances on fetal development
    • Breastfeeding Resources
    • Labor and delivery
    • What to expect when the baby comes home

Planning for continuous supports and services for infants and their families to promote positive transitions and ongoing learning.

  • Help families identify the most appropriate program option for themselves and their infant and support them during this transition.
  • Assist working parents to develop a plan for child care that meets their needs and supports early learning.
  • Offer activities tailored to engage fathers in the lives of their young children.
  • Offer supports for multigenerational families.

Research Connections 

Pregnant mothers who receive consistent, ongoing prenatal care and engage in prenatal education activities are more likely to give birth to a healthy, full-term baby.1 A child who is healthy at birth is more likely to experience healthy development throughout the early childhood years. "Developmental and bio­logical disruptions during the prenatal period and earliest years of life may result in weakened physiological responses (e.g., in the immune system), vulnerabilities to later impair­ments in health (e.g., elevated blood pressure), and altered brain architecture (e.g., impaired neural circuits)."2 The 2002 Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project found that 52% of enrolled mothers were depressed, and 18% of fathers showed signs of depression when their children were 2 years old, leading to poorer outcomes for both children and their families.3


1Reichman, N. E. (2005). Low birth weight and school readiness. The Future of Children, 15(1), 91–116.

2Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. (2010). The foundations of lifelong health are built in early childhood. Retrieved from http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu

3Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation. (2002). Depression in the lives of Early Head Start families: Research to practice brief. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/research_brief_depression.pdf

Topic:School Readiness


Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: July 17, 2018