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Maternal, Infant, and Child Health

Maternal, Infant, and Child Health Across the Life Stages

A life stages approach to maternal, infant, and child health aims to improve the health of a woman before she becomes pregnant. The risk of pregnancy-related complications and maternal and infant disability and death can be reduced by improving access to quality care before, during, and after pregnancy.

Adults

  • 1 in 5 women are obese at the beginning of their pregnancy, placing them at increased risk of complications, including high blood pressure and diabetes, during pregnancy.6
  • Approximately 12% of pregnant women in the United States smoke during pregnancy,7 and another 12% of pregnant women in the United States have consumed alcohol in the past 30 days.8 These behaviors not only negatively affect women’s health and safety, but significantly increase their infants’ risk of serious health problems—including premature birth and severe birth defects—and death.
  • Of women who could get pregnant, 69% do not take recommended folic acid supplements, 31% are obese, and about 3% take prescription or over-the-counter drugs that are known to cause birth defects.9
  • Approximately 1 in 10 women are depressed during any trimester of pregnancy, or any month within the first year after delivery.3 Depression can inhibit a woman’s ability to perform daily activities, bond with her infant, and relate to her family.

Infants and Children

  • Birth defects are one of the leading causes of infant deaths, accounting for more than 20% of all infant deaths.10 Some of these birth defects can be prevented and, with proper prenatal care, many can be detected before birth, enabling better care during and after birth.
  • Infants born to obese women are twice as likely to be obese and to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.6
  • Newborn health screenings and wellness visits can detect and sometimes prevent diseases and serious health disorders, such as sickle cell disease or hearing loss, that can have profound effects on a child’s health throughout his or her lifetime.
  • Scheduled immunizations can protect infants and children from 14 vaccine-preventable diseases, including chickenpox, measles, and mumps. Scheduled immunizations are especially important for children age 2 and younger, who are at the highest risk for infectious diseases like pneumonia, sepsis, and meningitis.

Determinants of Maternal, Infant, and Child Health

A range of biological, social, environmental, and physical factors have been linked to maternal, infant, and child health outcomes. These include race and ethnicity, age, and socioeconomic factors, such as income level, educational attainment, medical insurance coverage, access to medical care, prepregnancy health, and general health status. For example, children reared in safe and nurturing families and neighborhoods, free from maltreatment and other social problems, are more likely to have better outcomes as adults.

Prepregnancy health behaviors and health status are influenced by a variety of environmental and social factors, such as access to medical care and chronic stress. Some of these factors can affect and compound others, creating a rippling effect. For instance, factors ranging from age to medical insurance coverage affect a woman’s general health status; a woman’s health status, in turn, directly influences her risk of pregnancy complications and her child’s cognitive and physical development.

Understanding the many factors that affect women, infants, and children—both negatively and positively—is key to improving the health of all Americans, particularly the next generation.

References

6Division of Reproductive Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity. Maternal and Infant Health Research: Pregnancy Complications. Atlanta GA: 2010. Available from http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/MaternalInfantHealth/PregComplicat...

7Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pregnancy and smoking. Resources for Entertainment Education Content Developers. Atlanta, GA: 2011. Available from http://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/ToolsTemplates/EntertainmentEd/Ti...

8National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data and statistics. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Atlanta, GA: 2011. Available from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/data.html

9National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preconception Health and Health Care. Atlanta, GA: 2006. Available from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5506a1.htm

10National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Birth Defects. Atlanta, GA: 2011. Available from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/data.html

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