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Press Release

Embargoed until 12:01 AM (EDT)

May 5, 2003
Contact: CDC Media Relations

Mother's Day Pediatrics Examines the Crucial Role of Mothers in Children's Health

What a woman does before, during and after pregnancy can significantly affect the health of her children. That is the focus of a special Mother’s Day supplement of Pediatrics sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Maternal Influences on Child Health: Pre-conception, Prenatal and Early Childhood.” The original scientific research reported in this issue provides data to support and clarify many of the current recommendations such as the use of folic acid to reduce birth defects and maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy. It also reveals progress and challenges in reaching national goals for promotion of healthy mother-child relationships, including breastfeeding and child vaccinations.

Mother's Day is the kick-off to National Women's Health Week, when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is asking women to focus on their own health and schedule a preventive check-up. In recognition, CDC encourages women to take simple steps to improve their health and the health of their babies, including:

Take care of yourself before you become pregnant. Healthy behaviors that you develop now are likely to carry over into any future pregnancy, whether it’s planned or not. These behaviors include eating right, being physically active, getting recommended health screenings, drinking alcohol in moderation or not at all, being smoke free, and taking folic acid.

Take care of yourself and your baby during pregnancy. During pregnancy, everything you do – foods you eat, medications you take, substances you use or are exposed to – can directly or indirectly affect your unborn child, as well as a woman’s general health. In addition, your body devotes energy and nutrients to the growing fetus, which means that you will need extra rest and nutrients. Prenatal care and a healthy lifestyle can help you stay healthy and have a healthy baby.

Take care of yourself and your new baby and young child. As a new parent, you are responsible for the health, safety, and development of another person and this can be overwhelming at times, but there are a variety of resources for you, and things that you can do to improve your health and the health of your child now and into the future. For example, you can get your child vaccinated, you can provide a safe environment, and you can breastfeed your baby, which is the ideal nutrition for newborns.

Key scientific findings presented in the Pediatrics special edition include:

  • Adolescent mothers are more likely to have unintended pregnancies, and less likely to take pre-conceptional folic acid than older moms. Folic acid can prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
  • The risk of birth defects associated with maternal diabetes may be reduced by use of multivitamin supplements during the pre-conceptional period.
  • The first study of medication sharing among adolescents found that older teens, and especially girls, are likely to borrow each other’s prescription medications. This has implications because some medications (such as Accutane®, an acne treatment) may cause birth defects; and teen-age girls may have an unplanned and/or unrecognized pregnancy.
  • Mothers who smoke are twice as likely to have a low birth weight infant. Even those who smoke just a few cigarettes a day increase their risk substantially. Just over 12 percent of women who gave birth in 2000 smoked during pregnancy; a decade earlier, about 20 percent of mothers were smokers.
  • Women at high risk for alcohol-exposed pregnancy may benefit from motivational counseling focused on reducing high-risk drinking and postponing pregnancy.
  • Researchers found a link between fertility treatments and certain birth defects of the skull. This association is independent of maternal age, but needs further study.
  • More than half of mothers of HIV-infected infants had a least one missed opportunity for perinatal HIV prevention. Missed opportunities included lack of prenatal care, lack of a prenatal HIV testing despite prenatal care, and lack of prenatal antiretroviral treatment after testing.
  • The percent of women gaining more than 40 pounds during pregnancy is increasing. Excess weight gain in pregnancy can increase the risk of cesarean section, therefore the growing number of women gaining excess weight accounts for a larger proportion of cesarean deliveries each year.
  • Women who are overweight or obese before becoming pregnant may have a higher risk of having a child with certain birth defects, such as heart defects.
  • Sleeping with an infant on the sofa greatly increases the risk of SIDS.
  • Mothers who have multiple children or certain underserved mothers are at highest risk of having undervaccinated children.
  • Infant deaths from injury have declined, but suffocation rates have increased, and large regional and racial disparities continue.
  • Children whose mothers have a serious mental health condition have a 4-fold increase in attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

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This page last updated May 5, 2003

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