multicultual prenatal care for Asian mom and baby

Who doesn’t love seeing a healthy, happy baby? Unfortunately, this is not a reality for all mothers in the United States. Statistics have shown that approximately 1 in 33 babies, approximately 120,000, are born each year with some form of birth defect. These defects have been defined by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine as the abnormal development of the fetus resulting in death, malformation, growth retardation, and functional disorders. And, while these may range from less severe symptoms, such as low birth-weight, to more serious like disease or drug and alcohol related afflictions, the data is alarming.

Here are a few facts to consider:

  • Every 4.5 minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect.
  • Birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality in the US, accounting for over 20%.
  • The medical costs of care for children with disabilities resulting from birth defects have been estimated to exceed $1.4 billion annually.
  • The most common severe anomalies are heart defects, neural tube defects and Down syndrome.
  • However, other birth defects may result in long-term disability, which may have significant impacts on individuals, families, health-care systems and societies.

But what does this mean for multicultural prenatal care?

It has been noted that racial diversity plays an important part in the occurrence of birth defects. According to the California Department of Public Health, Hispanic infants were born with Down syndrome at higher rates than other infants. Furthermore, Asians have been shown to be at higher risk for oral-facial clefts, followed by Whites and African Americans.

The importance of ethnicity in the prevalence of these defects, possible theories have been put forward asserting the correlation with poverty, racism, environmental exposures, diet, inequalities in access to healthcare and unequal treatment in the health care system.

The importance of prenatal care varies from culture to culture.  In the United States prenatal care is viewed as essential.  Women understand the significance of seeking early medical treatment to ensure fetal development is monitored as well as their own health. However, pregnancy can be viewed as a “normal” condition by many Hispanic and Asian cultures.  As such, many women do not often have their first pregnancy screening until well into their second trimester.  According to Geri-Ann Galanti in her book, Caring for Patients from Different Cultures, some Vietnamese women will even avoid prenatal vitamins seeing them as too “hot” for the fetus using a yin/yang logic.

Although customs and values should be respected; traditional beliefs can stand in the way of early detection and pose potential health risks to both mother and baby.  Understanding cultural differences is key to explaining the importance of prenatal care.

If ever there was an argument for the need for culturally relevant translation and educational materials in healthcare, this is it.

January called attention as the National Birth Defects Prevention Month, dedicated to raising awareness for the importance of prenatal care. The non-profit organization, March of Dimes, is dedicated not only to improve the health of babies but also mothers, emphasizing the importance of monitoring and maintaining one’s well-being at any age.  The March of Dimes has many resources on their website (also available in Spanish) explaining the important role of prenatal care which can be found at http://www.marchofdimes.org/ or http://nacersano.marchofdimes.org/.