Mary Nettleman of Michigan State University said the top reason women do not seek prenatal care is they do not realize they are pregnant.
"This simple intervention -- giving home pregnancy test kits to women who are having unprotected sex -- was able to do what no other study has done: Influence women to be more vigilant about potential pregnancy," Nettleman said. "Telling a woman she is pregnant will often cause her to immediately stop or cut down on smoking, drinking and other behaviors that can hurt the baby."
The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found significantly more women who had a home pregnancy test not only suspected they could be pregnant but also took tests much more frequently.
Many women do not recognize they are pregnant for several weeks, which is all it takes for the heart and brain to form, but earlier pregnancy recognition could have a huge impact on the health of newborns in this country, Nettleman said.