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Strong start essential for lifelong health

Strong start essential for lifelong health

As a first-time father said, “There is a reason babies take nine months to arrive; you need that long to prepare.” 

Expectant moms are supposed to have nine months to nourish the growing life inside them. However; this ideal is not the reality for much of the world, where premature birth rates continue to rise. 

According to the World Health Organization’s May 2012 report, “Born Too Soon: the Global Action Report on Preterm Birth,” the world’s poorest countries see 12 percent of their babies born prematurely, compared to 9 percent in higher-income countries. Unfortunately the U.S. is an exception to the rule.  Our preterm birth rate of 12 percent ranks us among the most underdeveloped and impoverished countries in the world. Premature birth is the leading cause of death worldwide for newborns and the second of children under age 5.
The March of Dimes reports that premature births result in costs of more than $26 billion a year in the U.S., and babies born just a few weeks early are at risk of severe health problems and lifelong disabilities. 

This paradox of a wealthy country like the U.S. plagued with high-risk mothers and babies is mirrored in Orange County, where the premature birthrate is 10 percent overall, and more than 12 percent in some cities. Compounding this problem are babies who, though full-term, are born underweight (less than 5 ½ pounds), leading to health care costs likely to exceed $100,000 during the first year of life alone. 

“Between 2001 and 2010, the percentage of Orange County resident births with low birth weight increased from 5.9 percent to 6.4 percent,” according to the Annual Report on Conditions of Children in Orange County. The goal is 5 percent.

Despite the fact that more women are getting prenatal care, these numbers are increasing. Why? 

“We’re doing a better job in our communities ensuring that women receive prenatal medical care, but other circumstances in the mother’s life can have a harmful impact on their baby’s health,” says Pamela Pimentel, RN, CEO of MOMS Orange County. “She might be working two jobs, missing doctor appointments, and not getting enough rest, exercise or healthy nutrition.” 

MOMS Orange County, which serves nearly 3,500 vulnerable families each year, was founded in 1992 by a group of volunteers led by Dottie Andrews to help women gain better access to prenatal care.

In 2000, under the leadership of Pimentel—a nurse with over 36 years of experience in maternal child health—MOMS Orange County began providing monthly home visits, maternal and infant health screenings, community referrals, and education about such topics as breastfeeding, diabetes prevention, healthy eating and well-baby care. 

When Cristina Zainos of Orange found out she was pregnant with her daughter, Allison, she realized she needed guidance to help guarantee her baby would be healthy and sought help from MOMS Orange County. She followed the advice of her home visitor and monitored her nutrition, exercise and stress. Her baby was born healthy. But it didn’t end there. Zainos began taking Mommy and Me classes for 3 to 5 month olds, even though she and Allison had to take the bus an hour each way. 

She continued her parenting, education and infant-interaction classes through the birth of her second child, Richey, and both children are thriving. And even while she works and goes to school, she remains committed to multiple parenting groups and is president of the Orange Children & Parents Together committee for the city of Orange’s child development centers. On May 2, Zainos was named Client Mother of the Year by MOMS Orange County. 

Adds Pimentel: “New research is finding that many adult-onset diseases can be traced back to fetal health, so it is more imperative than ever that mothers—especially low-income mothers—do everything they can for the health of their babies.”

To learn more about how you can help, visit momsorangecounty.org or ConnectOC.org.
Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at Shelley.Hoss@oc-cf.org.

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