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Vanderbilt, Yale Forum Addresses Prenatal Health Challenges in Tennessee

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United Health Foundation, Vanderbilt University and Yale University hosted a community forum in Nashville Tuesday to discuss the health challenges facing Tennessee mothers and babies, as well as effective strategies for promoting improved prenatal health among mothers-to-be.
The event, "Expecting the Best: Improving the Health of Mothers and Babies," featured a panel discussion of national and local prenatal health experts. Panelists discussed multiple strategies and tactics for improving prenatal health and birth outcomes in Tennessee, including Expect With Me, a group prenatal health pilot funded by United Health Foundation and conducted in partnership with Vanderbilt and Yale Universities. The program, launched in Nashville earlier this year, conducts 10, two-hour group care sessions with expecting mothers during their second and third trimesters. The goal is to improve health outcomes by providing needed social, emotional and clinical support to expecting mothers.
"Good prenatal health, including quality health care and healthy lifestyle choices, is essential for a healthy pregnancy, delivery and the baby's infancy," said panelist Jim Merwin, director of Program Innovation for the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform and Modernization. "We are grateful for the opportunity to participate in this important discussion to help raise awareness for prenatal health challenges and resources for improving prenatal health."
Other panelists included: Jeannette Ickovics, Ph.D., professor at the Yale University School of Public Health and Principal Investigator of the study; Deborah Wage, MSN,FNP,CNM, Assistant Professor, Director of Group Prenatal Care, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vanderbilt School of Medicine; Michael D. Warren, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, director of the Tennessee Department of Health's Division of Family Health and Wellness; and State Rep. Harold Love, Jr. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean opened the event with welcoming remarks.
"Tennessee is committed to improving community resources and service programs to enhance the health and well-being of women, infants and families," said Rep. Love, who is active in Davidson County's Fetal Infant Mortality Review community action team. "We will not be satisfied until we, as a state and a community, have made significant strides to improve our pre- and post-natal care and outcomes."
"This community forum has helped raise awareness about prenatal health challenges and the resources available for improving prenatal health," Mayor Dean said. "A healthy city relies on having healthy citizens, and I want to thank United Health Foundation, Vanderbilt University and Yale University for their work and for bringing attention to programs that improve health outcomes for Tennesseans."
"With the benefit of support and empowerment, as well as access to the pilot's social, web-based tools, we're hopeful that participating moms will receive better care and have better outcomes for both themselves and their babies," said Wage, leading the Expect With Me initiative at Vanderbilt. "Given the widespread health challenges facing Tennessee mothers, we recognize that multiple stakeholders need to work together to improve prenatal health care in Tennessee."

Most babies born in the United States thrive; however, according to United Health Foundation's America's Health Rankings(r), six out of every 1,000 babies die during their first year of life, due largely to maternal complications during pregnancy, premature birth, birth defects and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 12 percent of all births in the United States are preterm - or prior to 37 weeks gestation - placing babies at risk for complications, illness and death. While race, ethnicity, income and age affect pregnancy-related health outcomes, research shows that quality prenatal care and healthy lifestyle choices among all women before, during and following pregnancy can help reduce infant mortality among babies born preterm.
Tennessee ranks No. 41 among the 50 states in high prevalence of low birth weight babies and No. 47 for infant mortality, according to America's Health Rankings. Tennessee has a high prevalence of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, a condition in which a baby has withdrawal symptoms after being exposed to certain substances -- such as medications or illicit drugs -- during pregnancy. These babies face prolonged hospital stays and experience serious medical and social complications. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, the rate of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in Tennessee has risen sharply in the last few years, with more than 900 drug dependent births in 2013, up from about 300 in 2008.
"There are multiple factors contributing to the relatively poor health outcomes of some Tennessee mothers and babies," said Warren of the Tennessee Department of Health. "We at the Department of Health are hopeful that, through discussions like today's community forum, and the hard work of health organizations across the state, we can make a positive impact on prenatal health in Tennessee."

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