Early Prenatal Care to Reduce Infant Mortality

As a young mother of five children, I can remember the first time my husband and I heard and saw our eldest’s heart beat. It was remarkable! Seeing him at nine weeks gestational age, flipping and stretching in what looked like his little personal swimming pool, brought tears to my eyes. My husband stood next to me, his mouth agape in pure amazement.

Unfortunately, not all babies get the healthy start they need to thrive as they should and this may lead to a low birth weight. Babies born with a low birth weight of less than about 5.5 pounds are in danger of experiencing developmental problems as well as short and long-term disabilities. They also face a greater risk of falling victim to infant mortality within the first year of life. Poor nutrition, poverty, stress, infections, smoking and violence can all contribute to the risk of infant mortality, preterm birth or low birth weight.     

Receiving early and regular prenatal care is essential to the health of a mother and her baby. Lack of care during pregnancy is associated with low birth weights and preterm births. Because these factors lower an infant’s chance of survival, both are associated with infant mortality. Receiving comprehensive prenatal care is fundamental for a healthy start to every individual’s life.

Historically, minority and economically disadvantaged communities have been the most underserved populations in the United States. In fact, even today minority women are more likely to go without early and ongoing prenatal care. The reasons for this vary, but a survey conducted in 2005 by the National Public Health and Hospital Institute (NPHHI), found that lack of health insurance, education, income levels, age and especially marital status are all factors in whether or not minority and economically disadvantaged women receive early prenatal care. In that same survey, researchers found that over a third of mothers who didn’t receive prenatal care delivered prematurely by week 36 and more than ten percent delivered before week 32.

Birth spacing is also an important consideration to achieving optimal birth outcomes. Some experts believe that pregnancies that are too closely spaced do not give a mother’s body adequate time to recover from the stress sustained from one pregnancy before enduring the next. The pregnancy itself along with breast-feeding can deplete essential nutrients such as iron and folate. Becoming pregnant before those nutrients are restored could affect the mother’s and the baby’s health. The recommended spacing period is two years. This period is often referred to as the interconceptional period. Interconception care is also vital to the health of women and their future offspring. Ms. Jonah Garcia, Director of La Clinica De Familia (LCDF), Healthy Start Program says that positive prenatal and interconceptional outcomes begins with good preconception health. She explains that taking folic acid, maintaining a healthy weight and diet, getting regular medical and dental check-ups, and taking care of emotional well being are basic principles of pre-conception and also of interconception health.

While most people think of interconception care as something solely intended for women, it is also important for men. Certain lifestyle choices, such as excessive alcohol and drug consumption, may negatively affect the fertility health of both men and women. In men, heavy or even moderate alcohol use can lead to consequences in newborns such as low birth weight, compromised immune systems, and more prone to behavioral and hormonal disturbances.

Programs such as LCDF Healthy Start have successfully been implemented in many communities throughout the country to help strengthen families and improve health status to reduce infant mortality. The aim of the local Healthy Start program is to improve outcomes for children by improving the health of communities throughout our border region. Its services are built on the adage, “it takes a village to raise and child,” to promote mutual responsibility between patients and service providers to improve the health status of all individuals within communities.

“Families,” says Ms. Garcia, “through knowledge acquisition, are empowered to become active participants in their health outcomes.” This is a shift in thinking from traditional models of care where a patient was typically passive. Improving the health status of babies, women, men, children, families and communities requires a shift in thinking about how to view health care. La Clinica de Familias’ Healthy Start Program emphasizes the importance of this mutual responsibility.

A child’s early health provides a solid foundation for their overall development, and ensuring that they are born healthy is the first step toward increasing their life chances. Not only is early prenatal care essential for the health of mother and baby, it helps everyone involved appreciate the miracle of life. When I saw my son for the first time on the ultrasound screen, a switch was flipped and I went from knowing that I was going to be a mother, to feeling like a mother instantly. Since then, my husband and I have involved each of our children in the prenatal checkups and sonograms of their younger unborn siblings. It’s wonderful to see their young faces light up as they make out their baby brother or sister’s face, tummy and legs.

If you find yourself pregnant or plan to become pregnant, seek out the necessary care for yourself and your little one as soon as possible. Our community offers many free programs and services that benefit a woman and her family. Healthy Start is just one of many wonderful starting points.

For more information on prenatal care and infant mortality please call 575-524-0767. You can learn more about the Healthy Start program by visiting the website at www.lcdfhealthystart.org or track on-going activities on Facebook.

Winter 2013
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