Maternal and Child Health: These Are the Specialized Skills Your Community Health Program Needs

One of the biggest issues for women in low-income, remote, or high-risk populations is accessing proper healthcare services that address their unique challenges and the conditions that affect them, especially during pregnancy and post-partum.

Programs that provide preventative care are unavailable or hard to access in many cases. These include birth control, cancer screenings, and STD testing. And the consequences are dire for women, with a 50% higher likelihood of dying during childbirth now than in the previous generation.

  • Black women are 2 to 6 times more likely to die during childbirth compared to white women.
  • 17% of women of color do not have health insurance, more than twice the rate of white women at 8%.

Prevention begins with education, unbiased information, and continued support. Community health worker (CHW), community health representative (CHR), promotores or other health advocacy programs can connect women to much-needed health resources and drastically change maternal and child health outcomes across the country.

Three core skills for CHWs working in a Maternal and Child Health Program

We recently discussed the core CHW competencies your maternal and child health program will need. To read them, visit How Community Health Workers Can Support Your Maternal And Child Health Program.

Chronic Disease Outreach

Many chronic conditions, like diabetes and blood pressure, can be easily prevented or reversed by making lifestyle adjustments. CHWs have the tools and expertise to educate women and address issues timely to improve outcomes.

From monitoring their own pregnancy to leading an active life, this knowledge arms women with the confidence to make empowered choices and to seek help when something goes wrong.

Gynecological Cancer

Cancer is the second leading cause of death for women in the US, behind heart disease. Cancer can also have long-lasting or permanent consequences on a woman’s ability to carry a child. This is especially disturbing because most types of cancer can be treated if caught on time. 

Gynecological cancers include: 

  • Ovarian cancer
  • Uterine cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Vaginal cancer
  • Vulvar cancer

Gynecologic cancers result from the abnormal growth of abnormal cells in a woman’s reproductive organs. Some women can be predisposed to cancer due to their family history. And in other cases, they may increase their risks through smoking, consuming alcohol, and other lifestyle factors. Age also factors in.

Fortunately, many types of cancer can be caught early and treated successfully by following recommended guidelines for yearly exams and routine check-ups. For example, HPV, also known as Human Papillomavirus, is known to cause cervical cancers, as well as some vagina and vulvar cancers — but it can be prevented with the HPV vaccine. Pap smears are a great example of preventive testing as they can detect the early stages of cervical cancer. So including screenings and preventive care in maternal and child health programs can greatly benefit women in child-bearing years.

Gestational diabetes

Similar to “traditional” diabetes, gestational diabetes is an increase of glucose levels in the blood during pregnancy. As with non-gestational diabetes, lifestyle changes can manage the condition and prevent serious complications. CHWs trained in healthy lifestyles can educate expectant parents about the changes they’ll need to prevent complications. They can also support them through treatment if the condition presents itself during the pregnancy.

High blood pressure

Also known as preeclampsia, this condition includes increased high blood pressure during pregnancy, as well as other symptoms like the presence of protein in the urine and swollen legs/feet.

On the flip side, women with a history of high blood pressure pre-pregnancy can continue to suffer from it throughout the pregnancy, which presents a risk for complications. This makes it all the more important to control a patient’s heart health before they get pregnant. 

A community health worker who specializes in healthy lifestyles can educate pregnant people about the types of lifestyle adjustments they can make during pregnancy to prevent or reduce the risks that come with chronic diseases. They can work with the doctor’s recommendations and help the expectant parent safely bring these recommendations to real life along with a healthy baby.

Prenatal Health and Nutrition 

For most women, simple lifestyle changes can greatly improve pregnancy health. A nutritious diet, moderate exercise, and healthy choices, along with timely monitoring by a doctor, all but guarantee a successful birth.

Additionally, programs like the HRSA’s home visits within the maternal and child health initiative can prevent abuse and drug use. They can also improve mental health treatment for families at or below the poverty line. Programs like this ensure that children receive the protection and attention they need to thrive.CHWs can also assess risks and educate families on safety and accident prevention at home. These assessments could potentially prevent SIDS and other early childhood complications.

Mental health during pregnancy and post-partum

Trauma-informed care

People from minority groups are at significantly higher risk of suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Add to that the stresses and fears associated with pregnancy, plus the limited or inexistent access to healthcare, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Maternal and child health programs addressing mental health for pregnant and post-partum parents can bridge gaps in care. They can also provide tools and address existing trauma and underlying conditions.

According to the Buffalo Center for Social Research, “Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) is an approach in the human service field that assumes that an individual is more likely than not to have a history of trauma. Trauma-Informed Care recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role trauma may play in an individual’s life- including service staff.”

This training is fundamental for CHWs who work with new parents and parents-to-be in high-risk and marginalized communities. Especially immigrants and people of color.

Postpartum depression

According to this study, 19% of new mothers experience a severe episode of postpartum depression within three months of giving birth. For low-income families, this number skyrockets to 49%.

Maternal and child health programs including mental health monitoring can greatly influence women and parents’ success at this stage. Community health worker programs have been proven to improve postpartum depression scores in low-income communities in the first six months after birth.

A Community Health Worker program can positively impact Maternal and Child Health

Across the world, communities thrive when women receive fair treatment and get access to the resources they need to lead a healthy life. In the US, a maternal and child health program can break down the barriers many women face when seeking care. Your community health workers have the toolkit to give these people the opportunity to carry a healthy pregnancy and post-partum experience.

Unsure of how to train your community health workers to address inequities in maternal and child health? Get in touch. Whether you’re looking for off-the-shelf or custom training solutions — at CHWTraining, we’re here to help.

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