Prenatal Care Makes a Difference

This article is part 3 of our "Tale of Two Children" series. Read Part 1

As for prenatal care, it’s like building a strong foundation for a new house (Tweet this!).

At one time or another, every parent has said some variation of the old truism: little pitchers have big ears. After all, almost anyone with children can attest to the fact that children hear and absorb almost everything and it shapes the way they view and interact with the world for years to come.

Tiffany and Briana, the five-year-old stars of our continuing series, prove it every day. Although they live in vastly different parts of Memphis, they listen closely when the adults talk about serious issues, problems, and their hopes for the future.

Tiffany, who lives in South Memphis and whose mother works hard to shelter her from the stresses associated with poverty, is especially interested these days in conversations between her mother and her aunt. They talk a lot these days about babies, because her aunt is seven months pregnant and doesn’t seem to know much about how to give birth and raise a healthy child.

Prenatal Care Matters

In fact, her mother seems mad because her aunt hasn’t been to the doctor but a couple of times, and she’s heard her mother shout at her: “You could make bad decisions when you weren’t pregnant because it only hurt you, but now, your bad decisions are hurting someone else: the baby inside you.”

Tiffany has seen a woman at her church breastfeeding her baby, but her mother said she didn’t do that with her, and Tiffany doesn’t understand why some mothers breastfeed and others don’t. Her aunt said she’s not going to feed her baby that way either.

Briana’s parents talk about babies a lot too, because her mother’s best friend is going to have one in three and a half months. It seems to Briana that her mother’s friend is always talking about what the doctor said about her weight, her health, and things like breastfeeding. Briana’s mother, like most of her friends, all nursed their children.

When she asked her mother about it, she was told: “Mother’s milk is the gift that keeps on giving,” that there’s no deadline when a mother has to quit nursing and there’s a law in Tennessee that allows children to be breastfed anywhere at any age. Briana doesn’t quite understand everything her mother is saying, but she can tell by the way she’s saying it that breastfeeding is a really good thing.

Breastfeeding and Prenatal Care are Increasing

Although the two girls are only five years old, their lives have already crystallized two factors that affect the well-being of children – prenatal care and breastfeeding. The good news in Memphis, according to the 2013 Data Book, is that breastfeeding has reached an all-time high of 62.1 percent in Shelby County, with the greatest increases taking place among African-American women (up 48 percent since 2004). Also, more good news is that the percentage of mothers receiving no prenatal care continues to decline (from 8.9 percent to 5.6 percent from 2009 to 2011).

Briana’s mother quotes her doctor who told her that breast milk is the best source of nutrition for infants and has health benefits for both infants and mothers. Every drop of breast milk has thousands of working, living cells and protective antibodies that prevent infections and sickness, and research has shown that breastfed babies score higher than bottle-fed babies on cognitive tests and make better grades later in school. Breastfeeding exclusively is recommended for the first 6 months of life, but even moms who breastfeed for a few days or weeks are providing something special for their babies.

As for prenatal care, it’s like building a strong foundation for a new house (Tweet this!). It reduces the risk for premature and low birth weights, infant mortality, and maternal mortality. In addition to threatening healthy overall growth and maturation, premature infants and low birth weight term infants may experience a disruption of important processes involved in early brain development.

Fortunately for Tiffany, her mother was conscientious about her prenatal care, but it would have been so much better if she had been nursed as well. Briana has both positives at work in her first years as her brain was developing at an astonishing pace.

There are two more truisms about children: Those living in poverty need as many barriers as possible removed from their development so they have a fair start in life and nothing pays bigger dividends than doing the right things early.