Let’s make sure more babies blow out their 1st candle

Phyllis George, NHSA Senior Program Manager, answers the question, “Why do you feel it is important to raise awareness around infant mortality?”

I learned early in life how devastating the effects of infant mortality can have on families. My parents are from Sierra Leone in west Africa, and many aunts and cousins growing up never got a chance to celebrate the 1st birthdays of their children. Over the years, the number of maternal and infant deaths has decreased, but Sierra Leone still has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Who would have thought that years later I would be working to help bring awareness to the issue in a nation where a woman does not have to walk for miles to receive prenatal care? It amazes me the wealth of resources that are available to people in the United States; yet we only rank 31st  in infant mortality rates among industrialized countries.

I believe that the main factor that contributes to the alarming infant mortality rates in the U.S. is lack of education and awareness about the issue. Other factors such as race and socio-economic status play a part, but many people, even those with a background in public health, are not aware of how to improve their chances of a successful pregnancy. I have yet to experience the privilege of being a mother, but if I wasn’t in the field of maternal and child health, would I know this information and ensure that my unborn child had the best start in life possible? Would I, after having my child, understand how to make sure that life flourishes beyond year one? I honestly do not know.

Health providers, community workers, churches, hair salons, friends, family members…these are the people that those who are most at risk of experiencing an infant death come in contact with on a regular basis. We all need to help in this fight and increase infant mortality awareness. Other countries should use us as an example and follow our lead on ensuring that the families in their communities are healthy. September is when we can begin to open up dialogue on this topic to families who do not know or congressmen who are not aware of the deplorable infant mortality rates in their cities, but let’s continue to spread the message throughout the year. Be the voice for the countless babies who did not live to blow out their first candle.

Why is it important to raise awareness about infant mortality?

Today marks the first day of September, the first day that reminds us Fall is near, and the first day of a month where we pay special attention to an issue plaguing our so many communities in this country. Today we start our 30 days of awareness, but also 30 days of celebration for those babies who are turning 1 year old, 2 years old, 3 years old and on.

As we begin the month, I can’t help but recall a recent conversation I had with a young woman from a Louisiana newspaper. She was calling to confirm the black infant mortality rate for New Orleans because “it seems extremely high,” she says. I informed her that while I didn’t have the statistic directly in front of me, that it sounded pretty accurate. She also said her editor asked her to confirm the statistics because he said “if they are really that high, then we have an epidemic on our hands.”   I wanted to scream “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?? OF COURSE WE HAVE AN EPIDEMIC!” I was in awe and frightened that people who I thought should know, have no idea that babies are dying at such alarming rates in their very own backyard. I shook my head in disbelief, as I thought about all of the work we have all done to educate and inform communities about infant mortality. I realized we still have a lot of educating to do.

We not only have to educate our soon-to-be mothers and fathers, families, health professionals, non-profit and community based organizations but also that person you are sitting next to on the train or standing behind in line at the grocery store. We must inform everyone we come in contact with to make sure they truly understand how this issue also affects them. Many people are not aware that the infant mortality rate often serves as an indicator of a nation’s health. If our rate is ranked 31st among other industrialized countries, what does that say about the health of the United States? What does that say about the health of our population? To me, it says that we need to get to work on helping people better understand how everything impacts their health and the health of their children. What they eat, where they live, the life experiences they have and the resources and services they have access to, all ultimately have an impact on their health. It is important that we raise awareness about infant mortality to the corporations who sell packaged food, the developers who build homes, the mental health professionals who treat stressed people and so many others who we may not otherwise think have an impact on our health, but do. We have some hard work ahead of us this month, but knowing we will save the life of a baby, makes it all worth it.

Throughout the entire month, NHSA will use this blog to hear from many of our community and national leaders in the maternal and child health field, asking them the question “Why do you feel it is important to raise awareness around infant mortality?” I know I will enjoy reading their responses and hope you will follow the blog this month to hear what they have to say. We encourage you to join NHSA this September in our efforts to increase awareness and spread the word about infant mortality. We also encourage you to spread the word about infant mortality in your community. We have great tools on our website to help you learn more about the issue. We believe that collectively, we can help save the lives of millions of babies in this country. Help us make sure every baby reaches their first birthday, their second birthday, the fifteenth birthday and their thirtieth birthday!

Celebrating World Breastfeeding Week

World Breastfeeding week in celebrated every year from August 1 to 7. This year, more than 170 countries are celebrating this great event with the theme Talk to me! Breastfeeding – a 3D Experience which emphasizes the importance of communication. When we look at the breastfeeding support, not only should we see it in the two dimensions of time (from pre-pregnancy to weaning) and place (the home, community, health care system, etc), but also in the third dimension of communication at various levels and between various sectors. That is what “3D” means.

Breastfeeding is regarded as a good way to provide newborns with the nutrients they need and protect them from illness. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding until a baby is six months old and continued breastfeeding with the addition of nutritious complementary foods for up to two years or beyond.

Although breastfeeding has been increasing in popularity in many countries in the Americas, much remains to be done to optimize breastfeeding practices. In most countries of the Americas, fewer than half of babies begin breastfeeding within the first hour of life. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is low, ranging from 8% to 64% of babies in different countries of Latin America.

To promote the advantage of breastfeeding, all of us can use our most powerful tool — COMMUNICATION — to tell others why breastfeeding matters. By enhancing the perception and knowledge about breastfeeding and bringing the dialogue to life, we can make this year’s World Breastfeeding Week celebration a true 3D experience: an opportunity for outreach, an investment in a healthy future, and ultimately, a unifying lens through which to see the world.

For more information, please visit http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org.

National Movement for America’s Children

Citizens and organizations across the country are awakening a National Movement for America’s Children, a grassroots coalition that is collectively calling for a national strategy to help ensure that every child has an equal opportunity for healthy growth and development. We will deliver policies and actions – from government, business and media, to schools, faith-based organizations, communities and individuals across the country – that are focused on giving every child the best chance to succeed.

Until November 6th (exactly one year before the 2012 election) movement members and partners will be hosting town hall sessions and logging onto www.movementforchildren.org to contribute different answers to what we refer to as “The Big Question”: How can we ensure that every child has an equal opportunity for healthy growth and development?

The National Healthy Start Association is proud to be a founding partner as a National Movement for America’s Children grows across the country. We think the Movement is of great importance to the development of the United States. By raising the awareness that children’s health is the top priority for our nation, by asking Americans to stand up and join the call for a national strategy and help us decide what the policies and actions should be within that strategy, this Movement can help to ensure that every child in America is given an equal opportunity for healthy growth and development.

Every American can join in and contribute to the Movement. It begins with signing the National Children’s Pledge at www.movementforchildren.org and sharing and debating answers to The Big Question. Supporters can also organize your friends and neighbors in your community to sign the pledge, hold house parties to share the message and recruit others, call on your elected officials to support community-based approaches to healthy child development and many, many more activities. For specific ideas on how you can participate, advocate and/or donate to support the Movement, please visit www.movementforchildren.org or contact the National Healthy Start Association.

NHSA Launches New Website!

The National Healthy Start Association (NHSA) is pleased and excited to announce the launch of our brand new website!

The new site provides great functionality, improved navigation, and more information so that we may better serve you. This site helps make clear the organization’s purpose and direction. It also spells out NHSA’s enhanced Mission & Vision, as outlined in our recently released 2011-2014 Strategic Plan.

NHSA_New_Website

The site features an eye-catching design with a user-friendly navigation system that allows viewers to quickly find the information they need. Including Infant Mortality Awareness resources, a searchable database of Healthy Start Projects, and the most current news in MCH, the website will capture the purpose and dedication of the NHSA members and friends, and draw visitors in to learn more.

We hope you will enjoy visiting the new site as much as we’ve enjoyed creating it for you!

20 Members of U.S. House Sign Letter in Support of Healthy Start

20 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter in support of $105 million in funding for Healthy Start.  The letter was sponsored by Congressman John Yarmuth and Congresswoman Karen Bass and delivered to the House Appropriations Committee on May 20.  The letter urges the committee to level fund Healthy Start at $105 million, the same amount of funding in fiscal year 2010 and 2011.  House leaders have pledged to cut the Labor/HHS/Ed appropriations bill by 13% this year, so it is especially important to let Members of Congress know of the impact and importance of Healthy Start programs and services.

The Members of the U.S. House of Representatives that signed the letter include:

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY)

Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA)

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)

Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI)

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH)

Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA)

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI)

Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA)

Rep, Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA)

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC)

Rep. Eearl Blumenauer (D-OR)

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD)

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA)

Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA)

Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO)

Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA)

NHSA 12th Annual Spring Conference

We will be hosting our 12th Annual Spring Conference themed, Healthy Start 20 Years and Beyond: Improving the Health of Families, March 6-9 at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill.

The conference will include several workshop sessions and forums that are open to the public. There will be three main Plenary sessions. The first, kicking off Monday morning is called The Voice of Healthy Start and features our most unique conference attendees — Healthy Start families! The second and third are on Tuesday — Strategies for Success: Moving Healthy Start Forward Another 20 Years in the morning and Thinking Outside of the Box: Innovative Strategies to Advance Healthy Start in the afternoon.  On Tuesday morning, the Assistant Secretary of Health, Howard Koh, MD, and Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN, Administrator for the Human Services and Resource Administration will bring greetings to conference attendees.

There will be fantastic workshop topics including Community Voice: Taking it to the People; A Study of Depression, Substance Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence Among Pregnant Women; and Support Circles for African American Fathers . The conference will culminate with a kick-off rally to prepare conference participants as they head to Capitol Hill to meet with their respective Senators and Members of Congress about the importance of supporting Healthy Start programs in communities.

In addition, the conference will feature some fantastic guest speakers, including Dr. Camara Jones, Dr. Adewale Troutman, Dr. Michael Lu, and Lisa Bernstein.

It’s not too late to register! Onsite registration opens at 2:30pm on Sunday, March 6 at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. Additional information can be found here.

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