The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced its participation in the national observance of Black Infant Health Week, February 21–27, by unveiling its top-10 health tips for women of childbearing age. The campaign is observed each year during the month of February, Black History Month.
During Black Infant Health Week, CDPH partners with local community agencies and providers on projects to improve the health of African-American women. The goal is to reduce the risks of poor maternal and birth outcomes. Local activities are conducted to promote good nutrition, appropriate physical exercise, regular health check ups, and the avoidance of smoking, alcohol and other drug use among African-American women of reproductive age.
“While African-American infant mortality rates have decreased in California, African-American infants continue to die at more than twice the rate of other racial or ethnic groups,” said CDPH’s Director Dr. Mark Horton. “Improving black infant and maternal health continues to be a priority for CDPH.”
In California, the overall infant mortality rate is 5.2 for every 1,000 live births. White infant mortality rate is 4.6 for every 1,000 live births compared to the black infant mortality rate of 11.5 for every 1,000 live births. The disparity between black and white infant mortality is most pronounced among very low birth weight babies. Sixty-five percent of African-American infant deaths occur in very low birth weight babies.
Research has identified socioeconomic and other risks factors that contribute to disparities in perinatal outcomes, particularly when they occur over the lifetime of the mother. These risk factors include poverty, health conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes before and during pregnancy, as well as the effects of smoking, alcohol and other drug use.
Many women are not familiar with pre-conception health, in which healthy lifestyle habits are practiced months or even years before pregnancy. This effort can make a significant difference in the baby’s birth outcome.
The following is a top-10 list of healthy habits to practice before thinking of having a baby:
1. HAVE A PLAN – Six out of every 10 births to black women in California in 2005 were unplanned pregnancy. If you are not ready for a baby, find a method of birth control that works for you and use it every time you have sex. You can find a clinic near you by visiting family planning clincs.
2. TALK TO YOUR SPOUSE OR SIGNIFICANT OTHER – Share your plans and dreams, including whether you two want to have kids. Having the support of a partner before, during and after pregnancy can really make a difference.
3. LEAN ON YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS – You need support and love from the people around you, especially if you get pregnant. Reach out to your friends, your parents, your grandparents. Create a network of people who love, support and believe in you.
4. TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH – Diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems are more common in the African-American community, and often these diseases have no symptoms. These conditions should be treated before you get pregnant so it’s a good idea to see a doctor now to make sure you are healthy. For programs that can help, please visit here.
5. DEAL WITH YOUR STRESS – Everyone has stress but sometimes it can affect health. Studies show that women who experience a lot of stress before pregnancy are more likely to have problems later when they do get pregnant. Learning simple techniques for managing stress now, like deep breathing or taking a walk, will help prevent pregnancy complications later.
6. AVOID ALCOHOL, TOBACCO AND DRUGS – Smoking can cause serious health problems in women and it can also hurt the baby if you get pregnant. Any alcohol use during pregnancy can cause serious damage to the baby’s brain, and street drugs and prescription drugs can be harmful to the baby. So if you drink alcohol or take drugs, make sure you are using birth control.
7. LOVE YOUR BODY – Aim for a healthy weight by eating well and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. Walk to the store, vacuum the house or just put on some good music and MOVE!
8. FEED YOURSELF WELL– Eat fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Choose lean meats, low fat dairy and whole grains. Make sure to get 400 micrograms of folic acid, a vitamin your body needs every day. If you get pregnant, it lowers your chances of having a baby with a birth defect.
9. WEAR A HEALTHY SMILE – Problems with your teeth and gums can affect the health of your entire body. Be sure to brush your teeth and gums at least twice a day using a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste and floss at least once daily. Visit a dentist for a check-up and treatment.
10. USE YOUR VOICE – Talk to your medical provider. Ask questions and make sure you understand what you’ve been told. Your provider is there for you so don’t hesitate to speak up!
Since the establishment of the BIH Program in 1989, program services appear to be successful at reducing the percent of infants born with very low birth weight (<1,500 grams), shifting these babies instead to the mid-low birth weight category (1,500-2,499 grams). For more information please visit BIH Program.