Maternal and Child Health

By Clay, Joy A.; Collier, Bridgette R. | Business Perspectives, Summer-Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Maternal and Child Health


Clay, Joy A., Collier, Bridgette R., Business Perspectives


Maternal and child health status provides a snapshot of an urban community's social and economic vibrancy. Improvements in maternal and child health benefit society not only by increasing survival rates, but in improving the overall quality of life for families and communities and, thus, nations.

From a population health perspective, researchers who link health to economic development argue that interventions to improve maternal and child health are a social investment that can have positive long-term economic effects as birth rates adjust, healthy children are better prepared to be educated and be productive citizens, and healthier populations require that less be spent on costly medical care (Mirvis and Bloom 2008). Maternal and child health conventionally addresses a broad continuum of topics, including health issues related to preconception, pregnancy, delivery, postpartum, birth spacing, and early childhood. Highlighted here are three current critical urban maternal and child health issues: infant mortality, unplanned pregnancy as it links to preconception health, and sexually transmitted infections (SYIs). These issues are important in the South, with the region reporting high rates of infant mortality, teen pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections. Given the direct relationship between population health and economic development, the potential economic and community development in the South will continue to be constrained, especially for minority and urban poor subpopulations.

The most troubling health issue afflicting Southern maternal and child well being is the phenomenon of infant mortality (defined as an unexplained death in a child 0 to 3 years old). Infants born in the South are more likely to be born prematurely, to be low weight, or to die than are infants in other parts of the United States. Moreover, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the incidence of infant mortality within the Mid-South (West Tennessee, North Mississippi, East Arkansas) rivals rates experienced in developing nations. The CDC indicates that the U.S. infant mortality rate was 6.86 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005; in Tennessee the rate was 8.77 in the same year. According to the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department, the rates of infant mortality showed an overall infant death rate of 13.8 per 1,000 live births in 2006, but the rate for blacks was 19.0 per 1,000 in Memphis. The underlying reasons for this high rate are wide ranging, interrelated, and include factors ranging from a lack of early prenatal care to economic instability and race. However, low birth weight clearly shares a high correlation with infant morbidity. Unfortunately, the means for preventing low birth weight in babies is imprecise as solutions relate to both medical conditions and social/environmental factors, including the reduction of domestic violence and adolescent pregnancy. Since it is a source of high quality nutrition, one solution favored by community health professionals is breastfeeding. The benefits of breastfeeding are great for both mother and child; studies now suggest a decreased risk of breast cancer in women who breastfeed, and children who have been breastfed are less likely to be susceptible to autoimmune diseases. But, breastfeeding rates vary by region. According to the CDC, Southern states report the lowest percentage of breastfeeding at birth, six months, and one year. Expanded public education efforts to disseminate knowledge on the positive effects of breastfeeding for both mother and child are beginning to appear in the form of grassroots movements. While social, ethnic, and cultural factors affect individual decisions to breastfeed, hospital practices also affect these decisions. Southern states score lower in practices supportive of breastfeeding when compared to other regions.

The community response to the infant mortality issues crosses sectors and includes a broad array of approaches/ programs, such as nurse home visitation, promotion of early prenatal care, parenting education, domestic violence programs, faith-based family counseling, and even ways to safely abandon an unwanted infant (i. …

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