Nov. 27, 2002 – If you're pregnant and haven't seen a doctor, don't delay any longer, says Barbara Lee Jackson, project director for the V.I. Perinatal Partnership.
The not-for-profit organization has just launched an outreach program called "It Takes Two to Give a Baby a Healthy Start" to get that message out to expectant parents throughout the territory.
The goal of the Perinatal Partnership outreach program is to increase to 75 percent the portion of women in the Virgin Islands who seek prenatal care in the first three months of their pregnancy. Currently, Jackson says, 48 percent do so.
"We've got quite a bit of work to do," she says.
Nationally, according to information from the March of Dimes, 83.2 percent of all pregnant women get prenatal care in the first three months of pregnancy. The rates drop to 74.3 percent for black women and 74.4 percent for Hispanic women.
The earlier a woman seeks medical care in her pregnancy, Jackson says, the sooner problems can be identified and a plan of care can be established to manage the pregnancy. "The earlier, the better," she says. "It's almost like prevention."
A healthful diet, no smoking, no drinking and no drugs help make for a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby, Jackson says, and so does a supportive partner.
"We want fathers to nurture the women carrying their babies," she says, suggesting that fathers-to-be can make sure their partners keep their medical appointments and get the services they need.
Jackson says the number of infant deaths per live births in the Virgin Islands has dropped from 11 per 1,000 in the late 1990s to less than 3 per 1,000 today, thanks to improved neonatal care.
Nationwide, according to the March of Dimes, the year 2000 figure was 7 per 1,000, but it was twice that for African-American women and 5.7 per 1,000 for Hispanic women.
However, Jackson says, the number of premature and low birth-weight babies remains around 9 percent of all births in the territory. Nationally, the figure is 5.6 percent overall, 13 percent for African-American women and 6.4 percent for Hispanic women.
Jackson says premature and low-weight births are directly linked to lack of prenatal care.
According to the March of Dimes, premature birth and low birth weight together are the second-highest cause of infant deaths (after birth defects) in the nation, but the highest cause among African Americans. Nationally, African-American babies are more than twice as likely as Caucasian babies to die before their first birthday.
There are various reasons that women don't seek prenatal care from the first trimester of their pregnancy, Jackson says. "Women who have had previous pregnancies feel comfortable being pregnant and don't get care," she notes. And some women don't know they're pregnant, and some feel they can't afford medical care.
If a pregnant woman doesn't have a doctor, she should look for help at a public health clinic, Jackson says. The costs entailed will be money well spent.
The Perinatal Partnership is a collaborative effort of the Health Department, Maternal & Child Health/Children with Special Health Care Needs, and The Village Inc. It is based at Vitraco Mall on St. Croix but serves women throughout the territory. Its outreach program, which includes people going door-to-door to get the prenatal care message out, is funded by a $4,000 grant from the Bennie and Martha Benjamin Foundation.
Claude A. "Bennie" Benjamin, born on St. Croix in 1907, went to New York, where he studied music and became well known as a lyricist in the 1940s, then later returned home and continued his songwriting. His collaborations with George Weiss included "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire," "When the Lights Go on Again (All Over the World)" and "Wheel of Fortune." He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984. Before his death in 1989, he set up the foundation that bears his name and that of his wife to provide support for the territory's medical care delivery system.
For more information about the pregnancy care program, e-mail Jackson at V.I. Perinatal Partnership, or call her at 719-1351.

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