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January 2006

Lifting the Curtain on Women's Health

A paradigm shift has begun in infant mortality reduction circles, springboarding beyond prenatal care and focusing more on women's overall health and its affect on successful birth outcomes.

In June 2005, North Carolina's State Infant Mortality Collaborative (SIMS) completed an ambitious qualitative study designed to document women's knowledge, attitudes and practices of health-promoting behaviors across North Carolina. Coordinated by the North Carolina Healthy Start Foundation, the purpose of the project was to better understand the link between women's health, self-care and infant mortality.

Notably, respondents communicated an overall awareness of the importance of healthy lifestyles and behaviors. Study participants outlined the need to be proactive about health, emphasizing the importance of good nutrition, stress management and exercise. They reported understanding the need to see a doctor for preventative health care, and among ethnic and racial minority participants, respondents were particularly aware of health risks prevalent in their communities.

However, a majority of participants reported the presence of distinct personal and systemic barriers which prohibited them from attaining their health goals. The patient/doctor relationship was outlined as a significant impediment for many. Several African American respondents cited mistrust of the medical community, while women from lower socioeconomic groups often felt ignored or "talked down to" by medical professionals.

Financial and economic issues, time constraints and family needs were also identified as barriers. A large number of respondents admitted to putting their health secondary to the needs of spouses, parents and children. Many also noted that family and spousal support were important to their taking care of themselves.

One of the study's more significant revelations related directly to pregnancy. Across the sample, respondents noted that becoming pregnant changed their attitudes toward their own health. Most reported trying to do "everything right" once they learned they were going to have a baby.

This indicates that many women are aware of the affect their health has on the potential health of their baby. What many fail to realize is that their decision to take care of themselves should begin long before becoming pregnant. Good health is a lifelong decision.

This is particularly relevant given that becoming a parent is oftentimes unexpected news. According to the 2003 NC Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System survey, more than 50 percent of North Carolina pregnancies were unintended. Thus, a large percentage of women conceive but are not prepared physically or emotionally for pregnancy.

This lack of preparedness oftentimes cannot be reversed by even the most comprehensive prenatal care, underlining the importance of total women's health and its direct relation to infant mortality.

Opens in new windowClick here to view the final SIMS Research Report

Opens in new windowClick here to view and order free educational materials pertaining to women's health

Opens in new windowClick here to view PRAMS data

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Last updated: January 2006


At a glance

SIMS Women's Health Study - June 2005

  • Qualitative focus-group research
  • 21 groups (204 participants)
  • 13 counties represented
  • Diverse representation with regard to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and geographic location

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