My Kids Doc

Mom’s health matters, too

We just came to the end of Maternal and Child Health Month. While it seems like everything has a special month or day, the importance of maternal and child health cannot be overstated. Healthy children are the bedrock of a healthy society. Their well-being determines the health of the next generation and can help predict future public health challenges for families, communities, and the healthcare system. And the health of mothers? Well, it goes without saying that healthy children would not exist if the physical, social, and emotional health needs of the mother have not been met.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times – a healthy child needs a healthy mom. When new moms see me in the office, many are a little surprised when they realize that my asking about their health and well-being has to do with more than just making polite conversation. The health of a child is intimately intertwined and reliant on the health of the mother at the time of conception, through labor and delivery and into infancy and early childhood. Prenatal and postpartum maternal health is critical to a mother’s physical and mental well-being and contributes to her ability to render loving, proper care to her newborn child at birth and years thereafter.

My perspective is not a unique one. Global health organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) have for decades expressed concern regarding the state of maternal and child health worldwide, particularly in developing countries. Worldwide, an estimated 5.9 million children under the age of five die each year because of malnutrition, inadequate healthcare, and poor sanitation – all of which can be prevented through education, immunizations, birth kits, and satellite clinics. Ideally, each stage of pregnancy – the postpartum period and child growth and development – should be a positive experience, ensuring women and their babies reach their full potential for health and well-being.

Poor maternal health can result in adverse outcomes for both mother and child. Topping the list of potential adverse outcomes is maternal or neonatal death. Additionally, poor maternal health can result in babies being born with birth defects such as spina bifida or can impact brain development resulting in cerebral palsy. Infants born to mothers with gestational diabetes are at risk for cardiac and metabolic abnormalities. Preterm labor can also occur as a result of poor maternal health, producing infants with underdeveloped lungs and other organs and setting them up for a lifetime of health challenges. Poor maternal health can also impact breast milk supply, placing neonates at risk of malnutrition and all the ill effects that come with it. The poor outcomes listed here only represent the tip of the iceberg for what can go wrong when mothers are not in an optimal state of health.

The healthcare system in The Bahamas is one of the premier public health systems in the developing world. In 1992, The Bahamas Ministry of Health developed the Maternal and Child Health Unit in response to the unique health challenges faced by mothers and children. Through their efforts, the Bahamian population benefits from antenatal care services, an expanded immunization program, adolescent health services, family planning, and the only level three Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in the Caribbean. Targeted initiatives by this unit have lent to a reduction in maternal and infant mortality rates, a reduction in mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and a significant reduction in infant morbidity.

The quality of maternal child health today is a predictor of the type of adult population we will have in 20 to 30 years. What does that population look like? Are we healthy? Are we educated? Do we have a population of able-bodied men and women who are able to join the workforce and contribute to the GDP? The children being born today are your teachers of tomorrow, your healthcare providers 30 years from now, the contractors building your homes and businesses, your future employees. What we do for them and their mothers today, determines what kind of country we have tomorrow. Highlighting issues affecting maternal and child health provides an opportunity for increasing awareness, educating the public, and ensuring that our country’s future looks a little bit brighter.

• Dr. Tamarra Moss is a pediatrician committed to helping you raise happy and healthy kids. You can find her at Dr. Carlos Thomas & Pediatric Associates in New Providence, Lucayan Medical Center in Grand Bahama, or on Instagram @mykidsdoc242.

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