Prenatal care can be one of the most important things a mother-to-be does for her newborn, but for many Hispanic women, good prenatal care just isn't available. As a result, neural tube defects—the kind of crippling, irreversible birth defects typified by damage to the brain or spine—are more prevalent in Hispanic communities, putting an incredible strain on families, resources, and caregivers. Babies born with severe neural tube defects may require lifelong specialized care, and may never be able to live an independent life.
According to a recent March of Dimes study, Hispanic women are more at risk for having babies with neural tube defects, and for having babies prematurely. Many risk factors contribute to these statistics, and understanding the problem can be complicated. For starters, Hispanic mothers-to-be are three times as likely as white mothers to be younger than seventeen years old. They're more likely to lack a high school degree, and health insurance. These are all risk factors for preterm births. As a result, the rate of preterm births among Hispanic women was about 12 percent higher than that of white women in 2012.
As far as neural tube defects goes, it may all come down to flour. Wheat flour is fortified with many things, including B vitamins like folic acid—the exact nutrient doctors advise pregnant women to take in order to prevent neural tube defects. But Hispanic women don't eat a lot of wheat flour: they eat corn masa flour, which is unfortified. They're also less likely to be taking supplemental prenatal vitamins, which contain folic acid. The March of Dimes is working hard to get corn masa flour fortified with B vitamins, but until then, awareness of the problem may be the best we can do.
This problem is of special concern in the Rio Grande Valley, where a high percentage of the population is Hispanic. According to U.S. Census data from 2008, 86 percent of Cameron County, 90 percent of Hidalgo County, 97 percent of Starr County, and 86 percent of Willacy County are Hispanic. And it isn't a new problem, either. "There are actually studies that were done in the 1980s in the Rio Grande Valley, because we had an unusually high rate of neural tube defects," says Adriana Muro, RN and Director of Pediatric Services at HCU. "It is because of these studies, when planning a pregnancy most Obstetricians will place the mother on prenatal vitamins with Folic Acid as part of their prenatal care regimen prior to getting pregnant, as these studies suggest that Folic Acid is very important for the development of pregnancies and baby's during their first trimester" adds Adriana.
At Health Care Unlimited, we offer many services that can be helpful to families of a child born with neural tube defects. Our Pediatric Skilled Nursing Care program can provide short-term in-home care, and coach a family through the adjustment process of learning to care for a child with a neural tube defect. Pediatric Private Duty Sessions are available for longer-term care needs. Whatever your family's needs, HCU can provide in-home care services to help your peace of mind and quality of life by providing a continuum of care. For more information regarding our pediatric services, please visit our child care services page here.
Adriana Muro, RN - Director of Pediatric Services, Health Care Unlimited, Inc.