Two reports prepared by Memorial researchers have concluded that provincial programs which assist pregnant women and young mothers are associated with better child outcomes.
The Mother Baby Nutrition Supplement and Healthy Beginnings studies were completed by Faculty of Education Professor Dr. Patricia Canning, Psychology Professor Dr. Mary Courage, co-directors of the Memorial site of the Centre of Excellence for Children and Adolescents with Special Needs, and Lynn Frizzell, research coordinator.
Studies have shown that good nutrition in the prenatal and early childhood period is vital to ensure healthy development. Poor nutrition during pregnancy can result in preterm birth and low birth weight which can compromise optimal child development in the short and longer-term.
With this knowledge, the provincial government introduced in 2001 the Mother Baby Nutrition Supplement program for low income pregnant women. This program provides them a financial supplement, referrals to community services, and nutrition and health information.
Canning, Courage and Frizzell, in partnership with Human Resources, Labour and Employment, examined the birth outcomes of participants in the first three years of the program and found that participation was associated with better than expected outcomes.
Women who were enrolled early in pregnancy were less likely to have preterm or low birth weight babies than women who enrolled later, or the population as a whole.
"The present research suggests the Mother Baby Nutrition Supplement has promising potential as a prevention program for improving birth outcomes, one that is of relatively low cost and builds on existing community health resources," the report concludes.
The Healthy Beginnings Program Evaluation was conducted in partnership with the province’s Eastern Health Authority. This study examined Healthy Beginnings, an early intervention program delivered by provincial public health nurses which aims to promote optimal development in at-risk children.
Families involved in the program are assessed by nurses after the birth of the baby and prior to discharge from hospital. Follow-up visits ensure that they are receiving the support they need, assistance that continues for as long as necessary or until school entry.
"The study clearly indicates that Healthy Beginnings is an effective early intervention program that supports children and families at risk and ultimately results in improved child health and development," said Ms. Frizzell.
The team hopes to continue to collaborate with its community partners to conduct further research on both of these valuable, efficient and effective provincial programs.
Copies of the summary reports in English and French may be obtained at the centre’s online library: www.coespecialneeds.ca/?display=page&pid=11&mn=14