Kids Count: Prenatal Care Essential, New High-Risk Care Available

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By Stefanie Jackson – Smart Beginnings Eastern Shore, an organization that advocates for the health and well-being of all children to age 18, hosted the third online session of the 2021 Kids Count forum May 26, emphasizing that when mothers take care of their own health, it makes a positive impact on their children’s health.

It begins with a woman establishing a relationship with a personal care provider before getting pregnant, said Dr. Sandra Balmoria, of Eastern Shore Rural Health.

It’s important for a woman to control health issues like high blood pressure or smoking before she becomes pregnant to ensure her baby is as healthy as possible, Balmoria said.

Prenatal care is essential. Balmoria said she has seen women during the COVID-19 pandemic who were well into their second trimesters before telling any medical professionals that they were pregnant, and several women were medevaced to Norfolk due to dangerous conditions that had developed during their pregnancies.

Tanya Owens, of the Virginia Department of Health, is a nurse midwife with 21 years experience who has delivered more than 2,000 babies. She recommended early access to prenatal care (within the first trimester), which can help prevent pregnancy complications.

Early ultrasounds help date a pregnancy, and an expectant mother can receive prenatal vitamins and nutrition information during early prenatal care. Moms who start healthy eating habits during pregnancy often keep those habits, which is good for the mom, the baby, the family, and “basically the population of the Eastern Shore in general,” Owens said.

Getting prenatal care also helps a mother feel strong and confident in her ability to grow, birth, and raise a healthy child.

“It’s my philosophy that strong mothers beget strong babies, beget strong families, and that’s what we all want,” Owens said.

Ann Pruitt is a nurse at Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital, which has a Level 1 nursery and can handle high-risk births.

The hospital’s Go and Grow diaper bag program, provided in partnership with Smart Beginnings, is a “tremendous asset” to patients, Pruitt said.

One of the most helpful items in every Go and Grow bag, which is free to each new mother who delivers her baby at the hospital, is called a “halo sleep sack.” The sleep sack allows the baby to be swaddled without using a blanket and is a useful tool in preventing SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), Pruitt said.

Dr. Eliza Berkley, who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, participated in the forum through a pre-recorded video. She called Kids Count “near and dear to my heart” because her “goal is to help pregnant moms on the Eastern Shore” to decrease maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality.

Pregnancy can be high-risk when the mother has a pre-existing condition such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, lupus, sickle cell anemia, or HIV.

Berkley acknowledged that it was difficult for Shore moms to access medical care for high-risk pregnancies because the closest facility that offered those services was in Norfolk, which meant multiple long-distance trips over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

That’s why Berkley is now part of the Longleaf Wellness and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Center, which has an office in Nassawadox that’s open every Tuesday.

The wellness center aims to decrease stress for pregnant mothers and the OB-GYNs tasked with coordinating care for patients with multiple medical conditions.

Women who develop diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy are more likely to develop diabetes or heart disease later in life, Berkley said.

The goal of Longleaf Wellness is to prevent these conditions “not only in pregnancy but looking at the longterm health and to improve longevity … by getting early care for these conditions.”

Local health care providers with questions about Longleaf Wellness may call 757-741-6033.