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Ensuring Healthy Babies in the Delta

Posted on: March 26, 2018

Sophia Young wants to be more than a number. And when it comes to pregnancy, she knows that some numbers can be life altering.

In March 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that 10 percent of pregnant women who gave birth in Mississippi in 2016 smoked cigarettes during pregnancy, which was about three percent higher than the national average. Those smokers put their babies at risk for certain birth defects and increased the chances that their babies will be born too early or have low birth weights. Smoking also raises the odds of stillbirth or sudden infant death syndrome.

Just as troubling, approximately 13 percent of babies in Mississippi are born before 37 weeks. Those pre-term births place newborns at risk for health and developmental problems as they grow, and are a leading cause of early infancy death, and Mississippi ranks in the top five for pre-term births each year.

Young, a mother of three, wanted to understand all of the challenges and risks that come with child bearing. So, for her third pregnancy, she joined the Healthy Pregnancy Program, a 10-county effort in the Mississippi Delta aimed at reducing the pre-term birth rate by providing education, support, encouragement and connections to needed social services. The program is sponsored and supported by Delta Health Alliance in partnership with Delta health clinics, the Mississippi Division of Medicaid and Cerner Corp., a healthcare technology company headquartered in Missouri.

“The program showed me that there are people who genuinely care about you as a person rather than just a number,” said Young, a Yazoo City housekeeper. “This program also helped me to stop smoking while being pregnant, which is something I didn’t do with my other two children.”

But there was more. Through the Healthy Pregnancy Program, Young learned:

  • The importance of doctor’s appointments and the vital questions to ask a physician.
  • About various tests performed during pregnancy and the accompanying conditions and terminology.
  • Why breastfeeding is important to a baby’s growth and overall health.
  • The importance of a healthy diet and how it affects the body.

“I would recommend this program to others to help them make sure they are healthy, and their baby is healthy,” said Young. “The health coaches really care about you and your unborn baby and you can tell.”

Currently, 97 women have enrolled in the pregnancy program, and “So far, the outcomes have been very positive,” said Shenetta Drone, DHA’s Associate Vice President of Health Information Technology Programs. “And we want to improve on those results even more.”

“In the pregnancy program, the rate of pre-term births is below statewide rates, due to education about pregnancy, home visits by the program’s three pregnancy coaches, referrals for specialized assistance, and help with scheduling and transportation for pre-natal office visits,” said Drone.

The program doesn’t end at birth. A post-partum component is designed for women who have given birth within eight weeks. Pregnancy coaches work with new moms until their child is three months old. “So we assist them with a contraceptive plan after giving birth to help space out future pregnancies,” said Drone. “This, in turn, helps lower pre-term births.”

Young, who became aware of the Healthy Pregnancy Program through a close friend who was already participating, said she’s now more aware of how she treats her body and has learned new ways to be a better mother.

“My coach was real with me and broke everything down for me, checked on me and mentored me throughout and even after my pregnancy,” said Young. “That made it real easy for me to open up and allow them to help me.”