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June 17, 2013

Learning to mother

'Healthy Baby' class fights low birthweight, other teen mom problems

Low graduation rates and meager earnings plague the population of teen moms, a variety of research has found. But it’s not just the young mothers whose lives are changed by pregnancy.

Their babies often suffer, too.

A fact sheet prepared by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy indicates children born to teen mothers are more likely to be born prematurely and at a low birthweight. A low weight at birth raises the probabilities for a variety of medical issues ranging from sensory and mental impairments to infant death.

Many of those issues stem at least in part from behaviors of the mother before childbirth. The Purdue Extension indicates that many teens don’t understand the consequences that behaviors like poor eating habits, smoking and marijuana or drug use can have on their unborn children.

“We’ve really started coming down on the alcohol and drugs because that’s a big issue,” said a Purdue Extension instructor.

Kathy Newport, instructor for 17 years of the Cass County Purdue Extension’s “Have a Healthy Baby” program, said she’s seen fewer teens coming through her class in recent years, but more of those who do take the class have been younger, in their freshman or sophomore year of high school.

At that age, she said, many don’t realize that something as simple as an unbalanced diet can adversely affect a developing baby. Substance abuse takes a harder toll.

“My goal is to come into the classroom and tell the girls, if you are doing drugs and alcohol, stop now,” she said, emphasizing the immediacy of the need.

The “Healthy Baby” program Newport teaches spans six lessons developed by Purdue University and is funded locally this year by a mini-grant from Partners for a Drug-Free Cass County. It’s designed to help pregnant teens deal with daily nutritional choices and the relationship of lifestyle choices to the health of a baby.

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