(BPT) - According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more low birth weight babies were born last year than in previous years, a startling reversal after years of steady decline.
Teens, women over age 35, African-American women and women with low income are at greater risk of giving birth to preterm babies. Sadly, the problem is particularly acute in Florida, where one in 10 newborns is born preterm.
Preterm births can result in lifelong health challenges for children, including disabilities, developmental delays and chronic conditions. Further, the lifetime costs of providing healthcare for preterm babies are substantially higher than babies born at term.
Stacey Stewart, president of the March of Dimes, stated it plainly in a recent interview: “The chance of a baby’s survival should not depend on where a baby is born, or the income, race and ethnicity of her mom."
While prenatal health is important for any expectant mom, it can be especially critical for low-income women, many of whom receive coverage from Medicaid. The increased health risk for a low-income woman and her baby — much like other low-income populations — is often tied to social and economic factors. As a result, Staywell Health Plan, a Medicaid provider in Florida, helps connect its Medicaid members to social services through its Community Connections program. According to Staywell, the top social service requests for Florida residents in 2017 included transportation, food assistance and housing assistance.
The March of Dimes has set a national goal of reducing preterm birth rates to 8.1 percent by 2020, but to get there, experts agree there are critical points along the journey an expectant mom must take to ensure she, and her baby, can be as healthy as possible.
Three keys to improving newborn health in Florida, especially for low-income women on Medicaid:
- Improve Prenatal Care Programs: Many women start prenatal care late, or get no prenatal care at all. There are numerous programs in communities across the state that can help expectant moms maintain proper prenatal health habits. Staywell, for example, partners with the Healthy Start Coalition to provide labor and life-coaching services to encourage prenatal visits earlier in pregnancy. Consequently, Staywell has seen a decrease in its preterm birth rate.
- Going Beyond Healthcare: It’s hard to maintain healthy behaviors during pregnancy when you don’t have a place to live, or can’t get to your doctor’s appointments because you lack reliable transportation. By building connections between healthcare and social services, those barriers can be addressed. There are a number of social services available across the state of Florida to help moms address social and economic barriers to prenatal care.
- Assistance and Support after Baby’s Birth: Women who are at high risk for preterm birth, or who have gone through preterm birth, need additional assistance. Personalized services, including in-home monitoring of the baby’s health, can help women who have a preterm newborn to manage the medical and emotional aspects, and help new moms keep up with well-baby checkups and immunizations.
Staywell offers a Community Connections Help Line to connect callers with local support resources. For help, please call 866-775-2192, where someone is available Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (local time).