Recruitment and retention of pregnant women in prospective birth cohort studies: A scoping review and content analysis of the literature

Ellen Goldstein, Ludmila N. Bakhireva, Kendra Nervik, Shelbey Hagen, Alyssa Turnquist, Aleksandra E. Zgierska, Lidia Enriquez Marquez, Ryan McDonald, Jamie Lo, Christina Chambers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Longitudinal cohort studies present unique methodological challenges, especially when they focus on vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women. The purpose of this review is to synthesize the existing knowledge on recruitment and retention (RR) of pregnant women in birth cohort studies and to make recommendations for researchers to improve research engagement of this population. A scoping review and content analysis were conducted to identify facilitators and barriers to the RR of pregnant women in cohort studies. The search retrieved 574 articles, with 38 meeting eligibility criteria and focused on RR among English-speaking, adult women, who are pregnant or in early postpartum period, enrolled in birth cohort studies. Selected studies were birth cohort (including longitudinal) (n = 20), feasibility (n = 14), and other (n = 4) non-interventional study designs. The majority were from low-risk populations. Abstracted data were coded according to emergent theme clusters. The majority of abstracted data (79%) focused on recruitment practices, with only 21% addressing retention strategies. Overall, facilitators were reported more often (75%) than barriers (25%). Building trusting relationships and employing diverse recruitment methods emerged as major recruitment facilitators; major barriers included heterogeneous participant reasons for refusal and cultural factors. Key retention facilitators included flexibility with scheduling, frequent communication, and culturally sensitive practices, whereas participant factors such as loss of interest, pregnancy loss, relocation, multiple caregiver shifts, and substance use/psychiatric problems were cited as major barriers. Better understanding of facilitators and barriers of RR can help enhance the internal and external validity of future birth/pre-birth cohorts. Strategies presented in this review can help inform investigators and funding agencies of best practices for RR of pregnant women in longitudinal studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106974
JournalNeurotoxicology and Teratology
StatePublished - May 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Toxicology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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